Category Archives: Books of the Bible

When Was the Book of Daniel Written?

Traditional scholarship holds that Daniel was written in the sixth century BC and is historically reliable, but many modern biblical scholars hold that Daniel was written in the second century BC and is pious fiction. Let’s take a look at some of the evidence offered for the second century date and responses to that evidence by critical scholarship.

Walt Kaiser and Duane Garrett, in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, summarize several lines of evidence:

Jesus ben Sirach (Sir 44– 50), 1 writing in approximately 180 B.C., cited numerous Old Testament heroes— but not Daniel.

Belshazzar is called ‘king’ of Babylon in Daniel 5; the actual king was Nabonidus.

Darius the Mede (5:31 and ch. 6) is otherwise unknown.

The stories of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity and of the fiery furnace read like pious legends— far-fetched miracle stories common in intertestamental Jewish texts.

Half of Daniel was written in Aramaic, a language Jews spoke during the intertestamental period. Daniel 3 also includes three Greek words— suggesting that the book was written after Greek culture had invaded the Near East.

How do traditionalists respond?

Ben Sirach also omits mention of other famous Israelites, including Ezra. Also, Sirach may himself have been influenced by Daniel. In Sirach 36:10 he prayed, ‘Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time’— verbiage resembling Daniel 11: 27, 35. It may be that ben Sirach offhandedly cited Daniel, which of course implies that the book already existed in his lifetime.

The book demonstrates familiarity with the history and culture of the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. Daniel rightly portrays the position of Belshazzar, coregent with Nabonidus. He could have appropriately been called ‘king’ (5: 1), but in 5: 16 Belshazzar offered to make the one who could interpret the writing on the wall ‘the third highest ruler in the kingdom.’ As Belshazzar was himself the second ruler, this was the highest honor he could confer.

Darius the Mede is not mentioned by that name outside the Bible. This is the kind of historical puzzle scholars frequently encounter in ancient texts. In contrast, intertestamental Jewish works of religious fiction lack historical credibility in a way that has no parallel in historical works. The Apocryphal book of Judith, for example, written during the reign of Antiochus IV, contains absurd historical blunders and is altogether unlike Daniel.

The miracles of Daniel are outside the ability of history or archaeology to prove. Still, the following observations are pertinent: Miracles do not prove that a work is fictional. Nebuchadnezzar’s madness was a rare but authentic clinical condition called boanthropy. ‘Made-up’ miracle stories contain outrageous elements with no clinical analogy (e.g., in Tb 2: 9– 10, another Apocryphal book, Tobit goes blind because of sparrow droppings in his eyes).

The fact that half of Daniel is written in Aramaic is a mystery with regard to any proposed reconstruction of its history. But the Aramaic of Daniel is ‘official,’ or ‘imperial’— the standardized Aramaic used in official correspondence when Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Near East (see 2Ki 18: 26; Ezr 4: 7; Da 2: 4), not the colloquial, regional Aramaic of second-century B.C. Palestine, at which time the common language of the region was Greek. All three of the Greek words of 3: 5 are musical terms. Greek poets and musicians were renowned, so their musical vocabulary came into use early. What would be surprising is how little Greek appears in Daniel, if the book had been written in the second century B.C., when the world was thoroughly Hellenized. The Persian words in Daniel are of an older, pre-Hellenistic Persian.

Stephen Miller, writing in the Apologetics Study Bible, offers additional evidence for the traditional dating of Daniel in the sixth century BC:

1. The NT writers and Jesus Himself accepted the traditional understanding of the prophecy (cp. Mt 24: 15 and Mk 13: 14; Mt 26: 64 and Mk 14: 62 and Lk 22: 69; Heb 11: 33-34).

2. The book professes to have been written by Daniel (see 7: 1; 12: 4), to be an account of a historical individual who experienced the exile and lived in Babylon, and to predict future events (e.g., 2: 29-45; 7: 2,15-27; 8: 15-26; 9: 24-27; 10: 14; 11: 2– 12: 4).

3. One of the eight manuscripts of Daniel discovered at Qumran (4QDanc) has been dated to about 125 b.c. and may have been written earlier. Some scholars have argued that there would have been insufficient time for the book of Daniel to have gained such widespread acceptance if it were written only 40 years previously.

4. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the OT produced in Alexandria, Egypt, that came to be used widely by the Jews of the Diaspora. Scholars generally agree that at least the Pentateuch (first five books) was translated in the middle of the third century b.c., but it is likely that all the Bible books were translated into Greek about the same time. If so, a second century date for Daniel is impossible. According to the critical view, only 30 years after it was written, the book of Daniel was received into the canon and carried to Alexandria, approximately 300 miles away, and there translated into Greek. Such a proposal seems unlikely.

5. Ezekiel, the sixth-century prophet, mentioned Daniel three times in his book (Ezk 14: 14, 20; 28: 3)— seemingly clear verification of the traditional view. Critical scholars, however, insist Ezekiel was speaking of a mythological hero named Danel who appears in the ancient Ugaritic epic “The Tale of Aqhat.” A decisive argument against such a theory is that the epic Danel was an idolater, hardly a model of faithfulness to Israel’s God. Ezekiel must have been referring to the author of the book of Daniel. If so, the historicity of Daniel and his book would seem to be established.

Commentary on Daniel 1 (Daniel Resolves to Obey God in Babylon)

The traditional view of the book of Daniel is that it was written by Daniel or an associate of Daniel and completed around 530 BC. Some biblical scholars are skeptical that Daniel wrote the book and they attribute it to a second century BC Jew writing during the Maccabean revolt. More will be said about this in a subsequent blog post.

Assuming Daniel actually wrote the book, his purpose was to encourage the Jewish exile community. He reminded them that God is in control of everything and that in the future God would restore His people.

Daniel is also unique because it is the first example of apocalyptic literature in the Bible. Stephen R. Miller, in vol. 18, Daniel, The New American Commentary, explains what the apocalyptic genre is.

Canonical apocalyptic should be viewed positively as a method (or genre) employed by God to ‘unveil’ wonderful truths to his people. What is unveiled by apocalyptic? Two truths stand out. First, apocalyptic grants the world a glimpse of God himself. In Daniel and other apocalyptic works, God is portrayed as sovereign, just, and powerful. He is in control of the universe and the lives of individuals. Second, canonical apocalyptic works unveil the future, not in order to satisfy idle curiosity but as a source of comfort and encouragement to the saints during their time of need.

Daniel is taken to Babylon during the second deportation of Jerusalem in the year 605 BC. Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaria, are evidently part of the royal family, or members of important noble families in Jerusalem. Because they were young (likely under sixteen years of age), intelligent, and physically healthy, they were selected by King Nebuchadnezzar to be trained as royal advisors. Training would typically take about three years and included being thoroughly educated and indoctrinated in Babylonian language, culture, and literature. Stephen Miller provides more details about their education:

They learned to speak and write the language of Babylon, which was a form of Akkadian known as Neo-Babylonian. Akkadian was written in cuneiform, which was made up of wedge-shaped characters, commonly engraved on clay tablets. Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of these texts. Daniel and his friends would have known several other languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, and, later, Persian.

The chief court official, Ashpenaz, who is administering their education, gives them Babylonian names which they were expected to use going forward. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah became Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Why change their names? Iain Duguid, in Daniel, Reformed Expository Commentary, explains:

In place of their good Hebrew and Yahwistic names, Daniel (‘God is my judge’), Hananiah (‘the Lord is gracious’), Mishael (‘Who is what God is?’), and Azariah (‘The Lord is a helper’), they were assigned pagan, Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (1:7). These Babylonian names invoked the help of the Babylonian gods, Marduk, Bel, and Nebo, rather than Israel’s Lord.

As part of their training, the four Hebrew youths are fed the same food as the king. This was to presumably keep them healthy because the king would eat only the finest food. Daniel and his four friends, however, did not want to eat the king’s food because it was forbidden by the Mosaic Law. In what sense was the royal food forbidden? Stephen Miller offers the following:

At least two factors would have caused these religious Jews to be reluctant to eat the king’s food. First, many of the foods eaten at the Babylonian court (e.g., pork and horseflesh) would have been unclean according to the law of Moses (cf. Lev 11 and Deut 14), either inherently or because they were not prepared properly; for example, the blood might not have been drained from the meat (cf. Lev 17:13–14). To eat such foods would have been a sin for an Israelite and would have rendered the individual ceremonially unclean before God.

Second, the meat and wine would have been undesirable because a portion of it was (at least on occasions if not always) first offered sacrificially to the Babylonian gods before being sent to the king and was therefore associated with idolatrous worship. Although wine was not forbidden by the Jewish law, Daniel’s aversion to drinking it probably is to be explained by its use as a libation in these pagan rituals.

Daniel asks permission of Ashpenaz to eat only fruits, vegetables, grains, and bread, and only drink water, but Ashpenaz is reluctant to agree to his request because he fears the king will have him killed if he is malnourishing the king’s Hebrew trainees.

So Daniel then moves down the chain of command and proposes to the steward who is overseeing them a ten-day test. If Daniel and his friends look healthy after ten days, the steward would allow them to continue with their preferred diet. The steward agrees and indeed, after ten days, they are healthier looking than the other trainees who are eating the king’s food. Thus they are allowed to continue their diet.

As chapter 1 ends, we learn that God gifts the four Hebrew youths with extraordinary knowledge and wisdom. God also gives Daniel the ability to interpret visions and dreams. When the three years is over, the king tests them and he finds them to be superior to all of the other trainees. They are all given the privilege of serving the king as his advisors. As time moved on, they proved themselves to be Nebuchadnezzar’s most valued advisors. Daniel would remain in the king’s court for decades, serving several different rulers. Daniel was blessed with a long life, probably living for 85-90 years.

Although Daniel and his friends refused to defile themselves with the king’s food, they still accepted jobs in the pagan king’s service. What can we learn from Daniel’s decisions in this chapter? Iain Duguid writes,

They did not refuse to work for the Babylonians, perhaps because they recognized the hand of God in their situation. They understood the word that the Lord gave through Jeremiah, that those whom he had sent to Babylon should labor there for the blessing of the place in which they found themselves (Jer. 29:4–7). As far as possible these young men sought to work within the system in which they had been placed, being good citizens of Babylon as well as of heaven. They didn’t kick against the challenging providence of God, but rather accepted it as their present calling, with all of its trials, pains, and limitations. This reminds us that our calling is not to form Christian ghettoes that are isolated from the world around us. On the contrary, we should be active in pursuing the common good of the community in which God has placed us, whatever challenges may face us.

Commentary on Jeremiah 27-29 (God’s Instructions to the Exiles)

The Book of Jeremiah was written by the prophet of that name over the course of his ministry, which lasted from approximately 626 – 580 BC. Jeremiah tells us that he dictated his words to his secretary, Baruch. Jeremiah began his ministry during the thirteenth year of King Josiah, and he continued preaching through the reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. He lingered in Jerusalem even after Nebuchadnezzar finally destroyed the city in 586 BC.

With regard to Jeremiah’s message, Walt Kaiser Jr. and Duane Garrett write in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible:

Reclusive, analytical and self-critical by nature— he has aptly been called the ‘weeping prophet’— Jeremiah also preached an unpopular message. The people of Judah were in apostasy, God would not protect them and they were obliged to submit to Babylonian demands. Above all, and despite the promise that someday God would give Israel a new covenant (Jer 31), the prophet’s overall message was one of doom and gloom: Jerusalem was soon to fall. Because of his negative stance, Jeremiah was widely despised and continuously in danger (11: 18– 23; 26: 8; 38: 6). On at least one occasion the text of his message was destroyed by the king (36: 20– 24). Even Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch, was dismayed about his own future (ch. 45). Jeremiah, an old man, lived to see his words fulfilled and Jerusalem destroyed.

As chapter 27 opens, the year is 594 BC and Zedekiah is king in Judah. Zedekiah has invited ambassadors from neighboring nations to Jerusalem to decide whether to rebel against Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar.

God instructs Jeremiah to make an ox yoke and place it around his neck. An ox yoke was made of wooden bars fastened around the neck by leather straps. It was placed on cattle to steer them for plowing or threshing.

Jeremiah goes to the ambassadors and gives them the very unpopular message that they are to submit to Babylonian rule (symbolized by the ox yoke around Jeremiah’s neck) until God ends the Babylonian empire in the distant future. F. B. Huey, in vol. 16, Jeremiah, Lamentations, The New American Commentary, explains that “the expression ‘his son and his grandson’ (lit. “son’s son”) must not be taken literally. It is an idiom for a long period of time.” If they rebel against Babylon, God Himself will punish them with sword, famine, and pestilence. The Babylonian Empire would eventually be defeated by Persia under Cyrus in 539 BC.

Jeremiah makes clear to King Zedekiah and the foreign envoys that God has chosen Nebuchadnezzar to rule over their nations. If they rebel against Babylon, they are rebelling against God. Jeremiah warns them to ignore false prophets who are promising victory over Babylon if they will rebel. The nations who submit to Babylon will not have their capitals destroyed and their people deported. Unfortunately, we know that Judah did not heed Jeremiah’s words and did attempt to escape Babylonian rule, only to be crushed in 586 BC.

As we skip ahead to chapter 28, Jeremiah is confronted by a prophet of Judah named Hananiah. Hananiah tells the people of Jerusalem that God will break the Babylonians and return all the exiles and all the treasures of the temple in two years. He then takes the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck, breaks it, and repeats that Babylon will fall within two years.

Is Hananiah knowingly lying about his prophecy or does he sincerely believe that God has told him Babylon will fall within two years? No one can say for sure, but Hananiah may have been persuaded to make his bold prediction because of the events unfolding in Babylon at that time. F. B. Huey writes,

The Babylonian Chronicles indicate that Nebuchadnezzar was putting down a revolt in Babylon at that time. His preoccupation with troubles elsewhere may have encouraged Hananiah’s optimistic belief of imminent return of the exiles. It is probable, therefore, that Hananiah thought of himself as a real prophet of God. People must, however, be cautious when they confuse their own desires and ideas (i.e., Hananiah) with those of God.

Jeremiah responds that he hopes Hananiah is right, but that Hananiah is contradicting the many prophets who preceded him. They predicted war, famine, and pestilence because of the sins of Judah. If Hananiah is predicting peace instead, then his word must be tested. If Babylon falls and peace comes within two years, then Hananiah is the true prophet. Jeremiah is invoking the test of Deut 18:20–22.

Some time after this occurs, God speaks to Jeremiah and settles the dispute. God reiterates that He has chosen Nebuchadnezzar to rule over Judah and that Judah and the surrounding nations must submit to Babylonian rule. To fight against Babylon is to fight against God Himself. God tells Jeremiah that Hananiah is a false prophet who is lying to the people. To prove this is true, God decrees that Hananiah will die within the year (death was the penalty for false prophets prescribed in Deut 13:5; 18:20). He dies less than two months later, thus proving that he was a false prophet.

There are not only false prophets in Jerusalem who are predicting the soon return of the exiles, there are false prophets among the exile community in Babylon who are saying the same things. In chapter 29, Jeremiah writes a letter to the exile community to counter the false prophets among them.

Jeremiah’s instructions to the exiles are to settle down and make Babylon their home. They are to build houses and families. They are to pray for the Babylonians and seek their good. They are not to listen to the prophets who are telling them that Babylon will fall and they will return home soon. Huey notes that

this is the only place in the OT where prayer for one’s enemies and for unbelievers is commended (cf. Matt 5:43–48; Rom 12:21; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Pet 2:18). It was practical advice though difficult to put into practice. It has never been easy to pray for one’s enemies. However, it was in their best interest to do so. If Babylon prospered, the exiles would prosper also. Praying for the government has become a Jewish custom.

After 70 years in exile, God will bring the Jews back to the Promised Land. God reassures the exiles that He has not abandoned them, that His plans are to bring them back and give them peace and prosperity. When the exiles seek after God, God will be found by them.

Commentary on Ezekiel 8-11 (God Leaves the Temple)

The Book of Ezekiel was written by the prophet of that name who was born around the year 623 BC and lived until at least 571 BC. The date of his death is uncertain.

Ezekiel was born into a priestly family and lived in Jerusalem until the year 597 BC. This was the year that King Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah a second time and carried much of the nobility, including Ezekiel, to Babylon.

Peter C. Craigie, in Ezekiel, The Daily Study Bible Series, writes that

Ezekiel belonged to a community established at a place called Tel Abib, by the ‘River’ Chebar, which was actually an irrigation canal, drawing waters from the River Euphrates near the city of Babylon itself. The exiles built for themselves houses with mud bricks and settled there in a strange environment, not too far from the extraordinary capital city of the Emperor Nebuchadnezzar. It was in his fifth year as an exile in Tel Abib that Ezekiel had a profound religious experience. He was thirty years old at the time; if he had still been living in Jerusalem, it was the age at which he would have assumed the full responsibilities of priesthood. But instead he was called to the task of a prophet, of being a spokesman for God. For more than twenty years, he served as a prophet among the exiles. The last of his prophecies that can be dated with any certainty was given in 571 B.C., when he was in late middle-age.

Ezekiel received the first of a series of 14 visions in 593 BC, seven years before Jerusalem would be completely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. His ministry was aimed at the Jewish exile community both before and after the fall of Jerusalem. All forty-eight chapters of his book are arranged chronologically and his visions are dated.

Craigie summarizes the overall message of the Book of Ezekiel:

The Jews of his time were faced with an enormous question; to put it in modern words, had their religion come to an end? Phrased so bluntly, it may sound foolish, especially with our knowledge of later history. Yet it was a real and awesome question at the time. The religion of the Hebrews had been linked intimately, before Ezekiel’s time, to the existence of the state of Israel and the possession of the promised land. And yet those two foundations upon which the faith had been established were crumbling before their very eyes. Had their failure, and that of their ancestors, been so terrible that God had finally given up on his people? In such an age, and to such questions, the message of Ezekiel was particularly powerful. He spoke of doom and judgment, but ultimately his faith and message outstripped the reality of contemporary experience. Ultimately, there was hope. Even the disasters of those decades somehow had a purpose in God’s plan. The events would somehow conspire to declare to the people that God was indeed the Lord. And so the final impression that is left after reading this extraordinary book is one of hope. It is not an unqualified and naive hope, but it is real nevertheless.

Chapters 8-11 contain the second of Ezekiel’s visions while he is living in exile in Babylon. The date is September 17, 592 BC. Recall that 592 BC is after the second deportation of Jerusalem, but before the final deportation and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The exile community is still hoping that God will save Judah and Jerusalem from Babylon, and they are seeking Ezekiel’s word on the matter.

Ezekiel is transported, in a vision, to the temple in Jerusalem by God Himself. God intends to show Ezekiel, and thus the leaders in the exile community, why He will not save Jerusalem. God will show Ezekiel four examples of the idolatrous worship taking place on the grounds of the temple itself.

temple

As seen in the figure above, there were two courts of the temple, the inner and outer. What cannot be seen is that there are gates leading from the outer court to the inner court on the north (top), south (bottom), and east (right) sides of the complex. There was no gate on the west (left) side.

Ezekiel is first transported to the north gate and he sees what is called the “image of jealousy.” It is clear this is an idol of some kind, and many scholars believe it is an Asherah pole. Asherah is the Canaanite goddess of love and was considered to the mistress or consort of El, the highest god in the Canaanite pantheon. This idol is set up right near the northern gate in the temple complex, side by side with the glory of God (the temple symbolizes God’s earthly dwelling).

In verses 7-13, God leads Ezekiel to a secret room that was built on the temple grounds where seventy elders of Israel are worshiping Egyptian gods that are painted on the wall. These are supposed to be the leaders of Israel and they are hiding away in a room to conduct their own form of blasphemous idol worship. They believe that God has forsaken the land and thus cannot see them.

Peter C. Craigie aptly writes:

The elders suffered from the delusion of secrecy. They thought they could act without being seen, and though primarily their secrecy was directed towards their people, at a deeper level it was an attempt to remain secret from God. Yet Ezekiel is standing there, and God is with him, observing the action.

There are no secrets from God. To act as if there were is the height of folly. For human life is conducted on a stage like the interrogation room of a modern police department; the insiders cannot see out, but the observers can see and hear all that goes on inside the room. All speech and behavior should be conducted with an awareness that ultimately there are no secrets from God.

God then moves Ezekiel back to the north gate and there Ezekiel witnesses a group of women worshiping the god Tammuz. Charles H. Dyer explains in The Bible Knowledge Commentary that

‘Tammuz’ is the Hebrew form of the name of the Sumerian god Dumuzi, the deity of spring vegetation. The apparent death of all vegetation in the Middle East during the hot, dry summer months was explained in mythology as caused by Tammuz’s death and descent into the underworld. During that time his followers would weep, mourning his death. In the spring Tammuz would emerge victoriously from the underworld and bring with him the life-giving rains. The worship of Tammuz also involved fertility rites.

The fourth and final example given to Ezekiel involves twenty-five Levitical priests in the inner courtyard facing toward the east and worshiping the sun. Note that facing toward the east means that their backs were toward the temple. They had figuratively and literally turned their backs on God.

Craigie explains the totality of the idol worship witnessed by Ezekiel.

The four scenes with which this great vision begins, taken together, form a comprehensive condemnation of Israel’s worship. All were involved, with no exceptions. The idol of Asherah at the north gate indicated the popular worship of the people. The secret room of sacrilegious murals demonstrated the distinctive failure of the nation’s leaders, the elders. The weeping women illustrated the loss of faith in the Living God. And, in the midst of it all, even the priests were turning backwards in their misdirected attempts at worship. And not only were all the people engaged in this folly; they were without discrimination in their choice of idols. The idol of Asherah represented the religion of Canaan; the secret murals were drawn from the religion of Egypt. The weeping women turned to a god of Babylon, while the priests worshipped the sun, whose cult was practised in almost every nation of the ancient Near East.

After showing Ezekiel the abominations in the temple complex, God says,

Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger? Behold, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.

In chapter nine, Ezekiel witnesses the destruction of the people of Jerusalem by God. All who have turned against Him are executed. This vision is a foreshadowing of the Babylonian attack in 586 BC.

Chapters ten and eleven report the most devastating consequence of Judah’s betrayal: God’s glory leaves the temple of Jerusalem. Ezekiel sees God mount what looks like a chariot. The chariot is composed of a throne sitting on a large platform. Underneath the platform are four cherubim and four double-wheels. The cherubim and the wheels move the chariot wherever God wills. See the figure below.

chariot

God summons a man dressed in white linen to come to the cherubim under the chariot and receive burning coals from them. The burning coals are to be scattered around the city of Jerusalem. Lamar Eugene Cooper, in vol. 17, Ezekiel, The New American Commentary, writes,

Some see this as a rite of purification; others see it as an act of judgment. Both ideas are appropriate. Judgment from God is redemptive in its purpose, not purely punitive. His ultimate goal was the restoration of the nation through a purified remnant.

God moves, on the chariot, from the interior of the temple to the eastern gate of the inner courtyard. The eastern gate faces out over the Valley of Kidron. On the other side of the valley is the Mount of Olives. God lingers at the eastern gate, as if He is giving Jerusalem one last chance to repent.

Finally, in chapter 11, verses 22-25, God rises up from the eastern gate and exits the city. His chariot transports Him to the Mount of Olives, where He makes his final departure from the temple and Jerusalem. Cooper writes:

The departure of the glory of God from the Mount of Olives was the final step in the judgment process. The removal of his blessing signaled the end of his longsuffering with a disobedient and rebellious people. God had exhausted every means of soliciting repentance from the people. Therefore he removed the glory that was the sign of his presence so that judgment might run its full course. The absence of the glory signaled the last stage in the process of reprobation of the self-willed people of the nation.

Ezekiel reported everything he saw to the elders in exile. What were they to do with this information? What hope was left? Craigie explains that hope now rested with the exile community. The residents of Jerusalem had been completely rejected by God.

And so it was upon the exiles that the future now depended. Thinking themselves to be useless, they had looked to others in far off Jerusalem to provide a source of hope. But the tables were being turned. If there was hope to be found, it lay within them, not in the empty hands of others far away. The citizens of Jerusalem had already written off the exiles as irrelevant to the future of their city. Indeed, the exiles themselves thought that there was nothing they could do. But now they were learning that the weak of this world were the ones through whom God would work. And such new hope was not without its attendant anxiety, for it involved awesome responsibility.

Yet the message of the prophet to his fellow exiles carried with it a potent promise, to be developed still further later in his ministry. The future now lay with those in exile, yet it was plain for all to see that they did not have in themselves the strength to undertake the task. The enabling power would be provided by God in the gift of a new spirit and a new heart (see further 36:26). The doomed citizens of the city had built by themselves, and their buildings would soon come toppling down. The exiles, in their mission, would have to learn to build in a new way, employing the strength coming from their new and God-given heart and spirit.

Commentary on Isaiah 52-53 (The Suffering Servant)

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is recognized by many scholars as the fourth of the so-called Servant Songs in the Book of Isaiah. Henri Blocher, in The Servant Songs, entitles the four songs: (1) The Call of the Servant (Isa. 42:1–9); (2) The Commission of the Servant (Isa. 49:1–13); (3) The Commitment of the Servant (Isa. 50:4–11); and (4) The Career of the Servant (Isa. 52:13–53:12). The Servant in these songs is none other than the prophesied Messiah who would redeem both Jews and Gentiles alike, reconciling them to God.

What do these Songs say about the coming Messiah? Larry Heyler, in Yesterday, Today and Forever, summarizes the characteristics and accomplishments of the Servant:

  1. He is elected by the Lord, anointed by the Spirit, and promised success in his endeavor (42:1, 4).
  2. Justice is a prime concern of his ministry (42:1, 4).
  3. His ministry has an international scope (42:1, 6).
  4. God predestined him to his calling (49:1).
  5. He is a gifted teacher (49:2).
  6. He experiences discouragement in his ministry (49:4).
  7. His ministry extends to the Gentiles (49:6).
  8. The Servant encounters strong opposition and resistance to his teaching, even of a physically violent nature (49:5–6).
  9. He is determined to finish what God called him to do (49:7).
  10. The Servant has humble origins with little outward prospects for success (53:1–2).
  11. He experiences suffering and affliction (53:3).
  12. The Servant accepts vicarious and substitutionary suffering on behalf of his people (53:4–6, 12).
  13. He is put to death after being condemned (53:7–9).
  14. Incredibly, he comes back to life and is exalted above all rulers (53:11–12; 52:15).

Let’s zero in on the fourth song contained in Isaiah 52-53. Messianic Jew and biblical scholar Barry Leventhal, writing in Why I Am a Christian, breaks down the passage as follows:

1. In the prologue of the song (Isa. 52:13–15), the prophet Isaiah asserted (on behalf of God) that the Servant of the Lord would ultimately be highly exalted (v. 13), as well as honored among the Gentiles (v. 15), but only after dreadful personal suffering (v. 14).

2. In the body of the song (53:1–9), Isaiah confessed (on behalf of his own people) that (1) Israel utterly rejected the Servant of the Lord in his life (vv. 1–3), (2) as well as in his death (vv. 7–9), because (3) the nation misjudged the meaning of his death by assuming that he died for his own sins rather than for the nation’s (vv. 4–6).

3. In the epilogue of the song (53:10–12), the prophet asserted (on behalf of God) that by the Servant’s completed work of atonement, God would be exalted (v. 10), believers would be justified (v. 11), and the Servant himself would be honored (v. 12).

Do these verses predict the resurrection of the Messiah? Leventhal argues that they do.

It is obvious that a dramatic transition occurs between Isaiah 53:9 and 53:10. The messianic Suffering Servant ‘was cut off out of the land of the living’ [a Hebrew idiom for death] (53:8 NASB), ‘His grave was assigned to be with wicked men, . . . in His death’ (53:9 NASB), and ‘He poured out Himself to death’ (53:12 NASB). And yet in 53:10–12, he is alive and well, “prolong[ing] His days’ (53:10), justifying the many who believe on him (53:11), and sharing in the spoils of his victorious war (53:12).

Without question, this is the messianic Servant’s triumphant resurrection from the dead! This transition is similar to the break in Psalm 22, ‘The Messianic Psalm of the Cross,’ between 22:21 and 22:22. This should not be surprising since the Messiah’s resurrection from the dead was directly prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures, specifically in Psalm 16. This psalm was used in the preaching of the early messianic community as an apologetic for the Messiah’s resurrection, with the result that thousands of Jews became believers (cf. Acts 2:25–28; 13:35–37; also, Luke 24:25–27, 44–48; 1 Cor. 15:1, 3–8; 1 Peter 1:10–12).

Perhaps the most astounding insight Isaiah has about the coming Messiah, which had never before been explicated in the Hebrew Scriptures, was the idea that a man (the Servant or Messiah) could suffer and die, and through his suffering and death, bring healing, forgiveness, and righteousness to other people. John F. A. Sawyer, in Isaiah: Volume 2, The Daily Study Bible Series, writes,

The prophet is entering new territory for an Old Testament writer, but what in essence he is saying is that somehow or other the community experiences healing, forgiveness and righteousness, as on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:22). Divine intervention has done what they could not do themselves: it has removed their sins and transformed suffering into a source of hope and healing. Psalm 51:10–17 offers a rough parallel, but there is no other Old Testament passage where such a way of thinking is developed. So unexpected is it that even Matthew quotes verse 4 in a totally different context (Matt. 8:17). Not until 1 Peter 2:24 is the full meaning of the passage appreciated. And Paul discovers the truth about the death of Christ without reference to Isaiah 53: ie ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous’ (Rom. 5:19).

After reading the fourth Servant Song, who is it that immediately comes to mind? Whose life exactly matches the predictions made in Isaiah 52-53? None other than Jesus Christ Himself.

This passage played a major role in the conversion of the Jewish college student, Barry Leventhal. When he was asked by Christians to read Isaiah 52-53 (and other messianic passages) for himself, he was convinced that Christians must have added it to the Hebrew Bible! He accused his Christian friends of fraud and deceit. Only later did he discover that this passage had always been in the Hebrew Bible, but modern Jews have been studiously avoiding it because of its obvious implication that Jesus Christ is the Suffering Servant whom Isaiah prophesied.

Another Messianic Jew and scholar, Michael Brown, in Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Volume 3, summarizes:

Isaiah 52: 13– 53: 12 is one of the most important Messianic prophecies in the entire Hebrew Bible, and I would not be exaggerating to say that more Jews have put their faith in Jesus as Messiah after reading this passage of Scripture than after reading any other passage in the Tanakh. To the unbiased reader, it clearly speaks about the death and resurrection of the righteous servant of the Lord on behalf of his sinful people. It speaks of Yeshua [Jesus]!

Commentary on Isaiah 40 (Comfort for God’s People)

Chapter 39 of Isaiah ends with a prophecy that Judah will be conquered by the Babylonians sometime in the future (after King Hezekiah is dead and gone). Although Hezekiah is relieved that it will not happen in his lifetime, the people of Judah wondered what would happen to their kingdom. Hadn’t God promised them the land of Canaan? Hadn’t He promised them peace? Hadn’t He promised them a righteous king from the lineage of David?

Chapter 40 addresses these issues for the people of God. Isaiah writes to his contemporaries one hundred years before their exile to Babylon, but he also writes to the exiles who will wonder what has happened to God’s promises to Israel. Imagine that you are part of the remnant in exile around 516 BC. What does Isaiah have to say to you after your people have been in a foreign land for 70 years?

Verses 1-2 tell the exiles that their punishment is complete. God promised He would exile Israel and Judah if they were disobedient and that is exactly what He did. For 70 years Judah has been exiled in Babylon, but exile is coming to an end.

Verses 3-11 feature messages from three heralds or voices. The first herald gives the glorious news that God is coming to His people’s aid. In the ancient world, roads would be improved to enable the smooth travel of a visiting dignitary. The first herald is reassuring Israel that this will be done for God.  J. A. Motyer, in The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary, writes that the “Lord’s road is to be straight (3d), level (4ab) and free of obstacle (4cd), i.e. he will arrive without fail, travel without difficulty and be undelayed by hindrances.” All of the New Testament gospel writers refer to John the Baptist as the first herald of Isaiah 40. John was announcing the coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

The second herald, in verses 6-8, cries out that humans are transient beings that cannot be counted on. They physically deteriorate and they are morally unreliable as well. In contrast to human frailty, God’s word stands forever. God never fails. God never reneges on His promises.

The third herald, in verses 9-11, commands the people of Judah/Israel to spread the word that God is coming with power and tenderness. He will tend to the weak members of His flock, while executing on His plan to restore Israel.

The final section of chapter 40, verses 12-31, is an argument against a particular position that Isaiah wants to counter. The position is actually stated in verse 27 and goes like this: “God can’t see my plight and He doesn’t answer my prayers.” In essence, they are questioning 1) whether God has the capacity to see their suffering, and 2) whether He is faithful to do something about it. This is what the Israelites in exile would be saying about God, and Isaiah wants to reject this thinking. How will he do so?

Isaiah must remind the people of Israel who God is, because they have obviously forgotten what they have been taught. In poetic fashion, Isaiah describes God in verses 12-17. God alone is the Creator of everything on earth. Nobody can advise Him. Nobody can teach Him. No nation on earth can withstand Him. There aren’t enough animals in the world that could be sacrificed to dignify Him. He is unique and unparalleled, unlike all the other gods worshiped in the ancient world.

J. A. Motyer writes:

In Babylonian mythology, the creator god Marduk could not proceed with creation without consulting ‘Ea, the all-wise’, but the Lord works with unaided wisdom. In both Babylonian and Canaanite creation stories the creator must overcome opposing forces before the way opens for the work of creation. To the contrary, the Old Testament not only tells the story of creation in a way that demands a monotheistic doctrine of God (Gn. 1) but also uses the concept of creation to point to the fact of only one God (Ps. 96:5). In verse 12 the Creator was alone in the work of creation; here he is alone also in the wisdom needed for the work.

In verses 18-20, Isaiah mocks those who think that God can be represented by a man-made idol. The idea is absurd.

Isaiah continues to expound on the attributes of the incomparable God of Israel in verses 21-26. God sits above the earth and to him all of its inhabitants look like grasshoppers. He spreads out the stars like a tent where He can dwell. The princes and rulers on the earth are nothing to Him. God can blow them out of existence just as the wind blows away wheat chaff. When you look up at the stars, know that God created every single one of them, giving each one a name.

In answer to the complaint that God cannot see the plight of the exiles, Isaiah has clearly made the case that He can. After all, how can the Creator of everything not know what is happening to the exiles? The idea is silly.

In verses 28-31, Isaiah tackles the complaint that God does not care for His people, that He does not keep His promises or answer their prayers. Since God is the eternal Creator, He never grows weary and never tires. The implication is that He is fully able and willing to help His people no matter how much time has gone by. God promises that for those who wait on Him, for those who trust Him, He will give strength. He will renew them. “They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Commentary on 2 Kings 18-19 (Hezekiah and Sennacherib)

Chapter 18 introduces King Hezekiah of Judah, one of the godliest rulers of Judah since Solomon. As is the case with many kings of the time, he reigned with both his father and son in addition to reigning by himself. He reigned as coregent with his father Ahaz for 14 years (729–715 BC). He reigned alone for 18 years (715–697) and then as coregent with his son Manasseh for 11 years (697–686).

What is remarkable about Hezekiah is that, in direct contrast to King Hoshea of Israel, “he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done.” Only three other kings of Judah are given the same commendation: Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Josiah. We know that Hezekiah destroyed pagan worship centers, removed idols, and even broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses had fashioned back during the exodus, for it had become an object of worship.

From the book of 2 Chronicles, we also learn that Hezekiah cleansed and re-consecrated the temple, and then reintroduced the sacred feasts and festivals that Judah had failed to observe. Hezekiah was so confident in the Lord that he rebelled against the Assyrians and successfully mounted attacks against the Philistines. As the idolatrous nation of Israel was being ransacked by the Assyrians, Judah was experiencing a revival under Hezekiah’s leadership.

Peace with Assyria would only last 14 years for Hezekiah, however. In 701 BC, the Assyrian King Sennacherib sweeps into Judah and overruns all of the fortified cities of Judah except for Jerusalem itself. (Note that the following section of 2 Kings 18:13-19:37 is also recorded in the Book of Isaiah [chaps. 36–37] with only minor changes.) What caused Sennacherib to launch this invasion?

Thomas L. Constable writes, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Old Testament), that

Sennacherib was a less capable ruler than his father. During Sennacherib’s first four years on the throne he was occupied with controlling Babylon. During this time an alliance had formed in which cities of Phoenicia and Philistia as well as Egypt (under Shaboka) and Judah (under Hezekiah) joined together to resist Assyria. Certain that Sennacherib would try to put down this uprising, as Sargon had done, Hezekiah prepared for an Assyrian invasion by fortifying Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chron. 32:1–8).

Sure enough, once Sennacherib had dealt with the Babylonians, he turned his attention to the rebellion in the south. After rolling through most of Judah’s territory, he sets up a temporary headquarters in the Judean city of Lachish.

Hezekiah panics and pays off Sennacherib by emptying his royal treasury and even removing the gold plating on the doors of the temple. However, this ransom does not succeed. Sennacherib sends an army along with three of his highest ranking officers to send a message to Hezekiah. The message to Hezekiah is received by three of his ministers and is summarized as:

  1. Hezekiah was foolish to align with Egypt against Assyria, since Egypt is weak.
  2. The God of Judah was obviously upset with Hezekiah because Hezekiah had removed the high places in Judah against God’s wishes. God had thus commanded Assyria to conquer Judah. Paul R. House, in 8, 1, 2 Kings, The New American Commentary, adds, “This sort of propaganda about other countries’ deities abandoning their adherents was a standard Assyrian ploy when they invaded and conquered another nation. Cogan notes that the Assyrians routinely told their enemies that their gods were angry with them, that the gods had abandoned them, and that these gods counseled them to surrender to the Assyrians. It is not unusual, then, for the spokesman to try such tactics on Judahites. What the speaker has not grasped, however, is that he addresses monotheists committed to separatist Yahwism, not the typical polytheists he is used to manipulating.”
  3. The people of Jerusalem will suffer greatly from the siege and Hezekiah cannot protect them.
  4. If they will surrender, they will be moved peacefully to a distant land where they will be able to live their lives and prosper. (This is an interesting way to sell deportation.)
  5. None of the other gods of the nations Assyria has conquered have been able to withstand the king of Assyria (who serves the Assyrian god Assur). Why would they think Judah will be the first?

In chapter 19, verses 1-7, Hezekiah sends his ministers to the prophet Isaiah to get his counsel. Isaiah assures the ministers that God will send Sennacherib away and that he will eventually be killed by the sword in his own land.

In verses 8-13, Sennacherib sends a letter to Hezekiah warning him not to be deceived by his god into believing that Jerusalem will be protected from the Assyrian army. He then lists 9 other nations that have fallen to the Assyrians and repeats that none of those gods protected those nations.

Hezekiah receives the letter, goes to the temple, and prays to God. Hezekiah appeals to God’s honor and the fact that Sennacherib has mocked Him. Hezekiah understands that Yahweh is the only real God in existence, but Hezekiah asks God to prove this fact to the rest of world by saving Jerusalem.

The prophet Isaiah announces to Hezekiah that God has heard his prayer and that He will indeed save Jerusalem. In verses 21-28, God speaks to Sennacherib and the nation of Assyria directly. God reprimands Sennacherib for thinking that he can conquer Jerusalem and for dishonoring the Holy One of Israel. Even though Sennacherib believes that all of his military successes are due to his own power and prowess, God corrects him and states that He is the One who has orchestrated everything that has occurred from the beginning. Because of Sennacherib’s arrogance, God will ensure that Assyria is treated just like she has treated her enemies.

God then speaks to the people of Jerusalem and tells them that they will survive the devastation brought by Assyria. Thomas Constable explains the meaning of verses 29-31:

For two years the people of Jerusalem would be able to eat the produce of their land. It would not be stolen by the Assyrians who would have lived off the land if they had returned to besiege the capital. The Judeans had not been able to plant crops outside the city walls because of the Assyrians’ presence. But God promised that He would feed them for two years by causing the seed that had been sown naturally to grow up into an adequate crop. The third year people could return to their normal cycle of sowing and reaping.

This provision of multiplied food was further designed to illustrate God’s plan to multiply miraculously the people of Judah who had been reduced to small numbers. Sennacherib claimed to have taken 200,150 prisoners from Judah. However, though Judah seemingly might cease to be a nation through attrition, God promised to revive it. Like the crops, a remnant of people would take root … and bear fruit, that is, be established and prosperous. God’s zeal on behalf of His people would perform this (cf. Isa. 9:7).

Finally, in verses 32-34, God reveals the immediate fate of Jerusalem:

Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.

That night, the angel of the Lord strikes down the entire Assyrian army camped outside Jerusalem. Sennacherib returns to his capital, Nineveh, without defeating Hezekiah and Jerusalem. Some 20 years later, Sennacherib is murdered by his two oldest sons in the temple of the Assyrian god, Nisroch. They were attempting a coup because Sennacherib had chosen their younger brother to succeed him as king of Assyria. Everything God said would occur did occur.

Commentary on 2 Kings 17 (Fall of Israel)

The last king of Israel is Hoshea, who rules from 732 – 722 BC. Just as all the other kings of Israel, starting with Jeroboam, Hoshea disobeyed the commands of God recorded in the Torah. The author allows that Hoshea wasn’t quite as bad as his predecessors, but it does not matter.

Hoshea refuses to pay off the Assyrians and seeks a defensive pact with Egypt. This move completely backfires on Hoshea and he is attacked by the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser. Hoshea is captured and the capital of Israel, Samaria, is besieged for three years until it finally falls to the Assyrian army, thus ending the existence of the nation of Israel.

So why did God arrange for Assyria to end the nation of Israel in 722 BC? Why did He turn His back on the 10 northern tribes? The next 16 verses answer these questions.

Verse 8 gives a concise summary: Israel “walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.” The people of Israel mimicked the behavior of the pagan nations around them and the behavior of their corrupt kings. God had sent numerous prophets to call the nation to repentance, but none of them were heeded.

Paul R. House, in The New American Commentary Volume 8 – 1 & 2 Kings, notes:

A long time has passed since the prophet Ahijah told the wife of Jeroboam I that idolatry would lead to Israel’s exile (1 Kgs 14:14–16). Over these two hundred years Israel has seemed determined to make this prophecy come to pass. No reform occurs. No real repentance emerges. No leader calls a halt to pagan worship. No prophet is taken seriously. Thus the spare, unadorned description of Samaria’s fall is dramatic only in the sense that it is Israel’s final scene. God’s grace alone has delayed the fall this long.

Thomas L. Constable, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Old Testament:), remarks that “after just over two centuries the Northern Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist as a nation (931–722 B.C.). Seven of her 20 kings were assassinated. All were judged to be evil by God.”

In verses 19-20, the author of 2 Kings writes that even though Judah was spared in 722 BC, God would later render the same judgment on them. They too would be plundered and their leadership deported.

The policy of the Assyrians was to deport the leaders, administrators, and ruling class of their defeated enemies; they were re-settled in Assyrian territory. Then they would move Assyrian leaders and administrators into the conquered area to assume control. In this way, conquered nations could not easily rebel since their leadership had all been deported.  This is exactly what they did with Israel.

The Assyrians moved people from five different conquered nations into Samaria to re-populate the land. After they arrive, they suffer from frequent, deadly lion attacks. Most likely the native lion population had grown due to the human population being decimated during the war with Assyria.

Their reaction to the lion attacks is to assume that the local god of Samaria (the name given to the former nation of Israel) was displeased with them. They call upon the king of Assyria to send them a priest from Israel who could teach them how to placate the god of Samaria. A priest is sent, but would this bring a revival of true religion to the people of Samaria? No.

The author of Kings explains that worship of Yahweh was merely added to and combined with the worship of the other pagan gods. Verse 41 states, “Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did.”

This passage of 2 Kings sheds light on why the Samaritans living during Jesus’s life were so despised by the Jews of that time. The Samaritans were a hybrid group of Jews and other near eastern peoples who had mixed true worship of Yahweh with worship of other pagan gods.

Was the Book of Isaiah Written by the Prophet Isaiah?

Although Jewish and Christian traditions, dating all the way back to the 1st millennium BC, all indicate that the 8th century prophet Isaiah wrote the book with his name on it, many modern biblical scholars claim that two, three, or even more authors actually contributed to the book over a period of several centuries.

The most popular theory, according to Walt Kaiser and Duane Garrett in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, is that three authors contributed.

The first was Isaiah (1: 1), the eighth-century B.C. prophet. Called ‘First Isaiah’ or ‘Proto-Isaiah,’ he is thought to have produced the core of chapters 1– 39.  ‘Second’ or ‘Deutero-Isaiah’ is assumed to have been an anonymous prophet of the sixth century B.C., to whom are attributed chapters 40– 55.  Another postexilic prophet, ‘Third’ or ‘Trito-Isaiah,’ is posited to have composed most of chapters 56– 66, perhaps around 400 B.C.

What arguments and evidence do Trito-Isaiah advocates offer to convince us their position is correct?

Advocates of this theory attempt to demonstrate that the style, theology and background of Isaiah 1– 39 are unlike those of either 40– 55 or 56– 66. Second Isaiah— but not First— they argue, depicts God in purely monotheistic terms. Also, First Isaiah is seen as a prophet of judgment, who placed his hopes on the Davidic king, and Second Isaiah a prophet of comfort who pinned his expectations on the Lord’s suffering servant.

More substantial are the arguments focusing on the backgrounds of the respective chapters. The Old Testament prophets in general are widely understood to have written from their own unique historical situations. Even if one acknowledges that Isaiah could have predicted the Babylonian captivity, it is argued, it is unlikely that he wrote chapters 40– 55, since those texts were written from within the context of captivity. Also, the Persian king Cyrus (c. 539 B.C.) is mentioned by name in 44: 28 and 45: 1, 13, suggesting that Cyrus was a contemporary of the author of chapters 40– 55. The background of Third Isaiah is posited to be different again. By this point Jerusalem had been rebuilt, its citizens no longer under threat from either Assyria or Babylon.

How do critics of Trito-Isaiah respond?

An author’s style depends upon a variety of factors (age, purpose, subject matter, audience, etc.), and stylistic factors like vocabulary are apt to change.

The three ‘Isaiahs’ do share many phrases and words, suggesting stylistic unity. For example, God is called the ‘Holy One of Israel’ throughout (e.g., 10: 17; 41: 14; 60: 9).

The alleged theological differences are artificial. Isaiah is a lengthy book, but it does not incorporate any real internal tension or overt contradiction.

All of Isaiah is concerned with Canaanite idolatry. While scholars would expect such a focus from First Isaiah, they would not anticipate it in Second or Third Isaiah (e.g., 57: 13); it was not a significant issue to postexilic prophets such as Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi.

From early on Isaiah promised that the Gentiles would submit to the God of Israel (e.g., 2: 2– 4), an expectation developed throughout the book (e.g., 42: 4; 49: 6) and a unifying theological motif for the whole of Isaiah.

What about the historical perspective and predictions of Isaiah?

Isaiah did project himself into the future to describe events as though they had already occurred (e.g., 5: 13– 17; 9: 1– 7; 23: 1, 14). In fact, Isaiah 6, a foundational chapter, presents the exile as inevitable. Isaiah assumed that exile was certain and wrote chapters 40– 55 with that in mind.

Isaiah’s mention of Cyrus’s name has a parallel in the prediction of Josiah’s name in 1 Kings 13: 2. It is true that predictions of this kind are fairly rare in the Old Testament, but they do occur.

In contrast to Ezekiel, who lived in Babylon, ‘Second Isaiah’ gave no indication at all that he was familiar with life in Babylon. This suggests that the author of Isaiah 40– 55 did not in fact experience Babylonian exile— which is just what we would expect if the chapters were written by Isaiah of Jerusalem.

Finally, Kaiser and Garrett note that the “only related archaeological evidence comes from a Dead Sea Scroll designated 1QIsaa. This nearly complete text of Isaiah confirms the conservative position in that there is no break between chapters 39 and 40.”

Commentary on Isaiah 6 (Isaiah’s Commission)

The traditional Jewish and Christian view is that the Book of Isaiah was written by the prophet of that name who lived during the 8th and possibly 7th century BC. Isaiah states that he is the son of Amoz and that his ministry coincided with the Judean kings named Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. This indicates a prophetic ministry that lasted from about 740 to 700 BC, which is during the same time that the prophet Micah was ministering. It is likely that these two men were familiar with each other’s writings.

Isaiah’s primary audience was the people of Judah. They were failing to live according to the commands of God recorded in the Torah. Because of this disobedience, Isaiah prophesied future judgment on Judah. Isaiah didn’t stop with judgment, however. He also foretold of God’s salvation for the believing remnant of Israel, and for all those who worship Yahweh.

Isaiah is the most quoted Old Testament prophet by New Testament writers, and his book is the second most quoted in the New Testament, after Psalms.

The first five chapters of Isaiah record the sinfulness of the people of Judah, including greed, arrogance, drunkenness, injustice, oppression and murder. Because of their utter failure to follow the commands of Yahweh, judgment would be brought on them in the form of foreign aggression. God would use surrounding nations to punish Judah, eventually leading to the deportation of most of the survivors.

It is helpful to see Isaiah’s words in context with the historical situation in which he found himself. F. Derek Kidner writes, in the New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition:

In 740 BC the death of King Uzziah (6:1) marked the end of an ‘Indian Summer’ in which both Judah and Israel had enjoyed some fifty years’ respite from large-scale aggression. This would soon be only a memory. The rest of the century was to be dominated by predatory Assyrian kings: Tiglath-Pileser III (745–727), Shalmaneser V (726–722), Sargon II (721–705) and Sennacherib (705–681). Their ambitions were for empire, not for plunder alone; and in pursuit of it they uprooted and transplanted whole populations, punishing any sign of rebellion with prompt and hideous reprisals.

In 735 Jerusalem felt the shock wave of their approach, when the armies of Israel and Syria arrived to force King Ahaz into an anti-Assyrian coalition. Isaiah’s confrontation of the king (ch. 7) brought to light the real issue of this period, the choice between quiet faith and desperate alliances. The king’s decision to stake all, not on God but on Assyria itself, called forth an implied rejection of him and his kind, and the prophecy of a perfect king, Immanuel, to arise out of the felled stock of the Davidic dynasty.

Israel paid for her rebellion with the loss of her northern regions (‘Galilee’; 9:1) in c. 734 and of her national existence in 722. For Judah, bordered now by a cosmopolitan Assyrian province (2 Ki. 17:24) in the territory where Israel had stood, there was every discouragement to patriotic gestures.

After 5 chapters of railing against the sins of Judah, Isaiah recalls a vision he had of God. The year of the vision is about 739 BC, near the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry.

Chapter 6, verses 1-3 record these memorable words:

I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’

Although God is spirit, He sometimes allows people to see a physical representation of Himself. To Isaiah, God is sitting high upon a throne in the temple that Solomon had built. His robe is so large it fills the entire room in which He is seated. While many Jews wondered where God was, Isaiah’s vision proves that He is reigning over the affairs of Judah and the rest of world.

God is surrounded by seraphim, which are angelic creatures with six wings each. This is the only place in the Bible where seraphim are mentioned. The Hebrew word means “to burn,” so many scholars suppose that the seraphim are burning with zeal for God.

John A. Martin writes, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Old Testament:), about the seraphim wings:

Covering their faces with two wings indicates their humility before God. Their covering their feet with two other wings may denote service to God, and their flying may speak of their ongoing activity in proclaiming God’s holiness and glory.

The seraphim are singing to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Martin continues his description of the scene unfolding in front of Isaiah.

In calling to one another the seraphs, whose number is not given, were proclaiming that the LORD Almighty is holy. The threefold repetition of the word holy suggests supreme or complete holiness. . . . Repeating a word three times for emphasis is common in the Old Testament (e.g., Jer. 22:29; Ezek. 21:27). The seraphs also proclaimed that His glory fills the earth (cf. Num. 14:21) much as His robe filled the temple. By contrast the people of Judah were unholy (cf. Isa. 5; 6:5) though they were supposed to be a holy people (Ex. 22:31; Deut. 7:6).

As the seraphs cried out, Isaiah saw the temple shake and then it was filled with smoke (Isa. 6:4). The thresholds (cf. Amos 9:1) were large foundation stones on which the doorposts stood. The shaking (cf. Ex. 19:18) suggested the awesome presence and power of God. The smoke was probably the cloud of glory which Isaiah’s ancestors had seen in the wilderness (Ex. 13:21; 16:10) and which the priests in Solomon’s day had viewed in the dedicated temple (1 Kings 8:10–13).

What is Isaiah’s reaction to be being in the presence of God? “Woe to me! 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.” Isaiah realizes that his sinfulness, along with the sinfulness of the people of Judah, render him ruined before God. He cannot do anything for God until he is forgiven.

In verses 6-7, a seraph flies to Isaiah and places a burning coal on his lips and proclaims that his sins have been paid for, taken away. As soon as Isaiah repented, God removed his sin. Now that Isaiah is reconciled to God, what will God ask him to do?

In verses 8-10, God asks for a volunteer and Isaiah steps up. What message would God have Isaiah deliver the people of Judah? Isaiah is to preach to Judah just as he has in the first five chapters of the book. He is to pronounce judgment on their sins and demand that they turn back to God.

However, God makes it clear to Isaiah that the more he preaches, the less the people will see, hear, or understand what he says to them. His preaching will be completely ineffective in bringing Judah to repentance. If God knows that the people will not repent, then why bother sending Isaiah?

John Martin explains that the “Lord did not delight in judging His people, but discipline was necessary because of their disobedience.” God does not short-circuit human psychology. He wanted to give the people of Judah every opportunity to hear the message of repentance so that they and their children would have no excuse. Nobody would ever be able to say that God never warned them, that God never commanded that they change their behavior. Isaiah was to make sure of that.

Even though God knows every human decision before it is ever made, in this instance He also allowed Isaiah to know. Perhaps this was grace from God to help Isaiah through the difficult years of his ministry. Isaiah always knew that his preaching was decreed by God, regardless of whether it ever changed anyone’s mind.

Isaiah asks God how long the people of Judah will refuse to repent. God responds that Judah will be destroyed and its people deported. This would occur when the Babylonians attack in 586 BC, some 100 years after Isaiah’s death, thus Judah would not listen to him during his lifetime. Not all will be lost, however. God would preserve a remnant of believers, a holy seed that would someday grow into the renewed people of God.