RPM, Volume 15, Number 31, July 28 to August 3, 2013

The Life and Times of Isaiah

By D. Marion Clark

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Isaiah 1:1


What draws me to Isaiah is the majestic nature of his writing. He is the Shakespeare of the biblical writers. He has it all — passion, profundity, eloquence.

The Man

Who was Isaiah? His ministry expanded the reigns of at least four kings, most likely five — Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and probably into the reign of Manasseh. This is a period of approximately 40 years, covering the time of the second half of the 8th century B.C. (750-700). The son of Amoz, he exercised his ministry in and around Jerusalem. Some commentators speculate that he was from a well-to-do family with ties to the royal family. He was married and had at least two sons.

Isaiah was a contemporary of two other prophets that we know — Micah, who also prophesied in Jerusalem, and Hosea, who prophesied in Israel. There is no mention of Isaiah and Micah knowing each other, although it is impossible to see how they could not have. There is no reference to Micah having access to the kings as Isaiah did, which again indicates that Isaiah had connections not available to Micah.

The times of Isaiah were turbulent, to say the least. King Uzziah enjoyed a prosperous reign in Judah. Under his reign of fifty-two years, Judah sustained a period of prosperity not known since the days of Solomon. Jeroboam II reigned in Israel during most of Uzziah's reign and had similar success. But their deaths marked changes of decline. By 722 B.C., Israel would be destroyed by Assyria, it's people forever scattered. Judah would survive the Assyrian threat, but not before being reduced to a vassal country impoverished by paying tribute to Assyria.

Uzziah's son, Jotham served for sixteen years, pretty much in the same vein as his father. Both were described as being faithful to God, although Uzziah for some reason let pride get the best of him and fancied himself as being able to carry out the work of a priest. He entered into the temple area, reserved only for priests, and tried to burn incense on the altar of incense. He was struck with leprosy which he carried to his death. Jotham, though is described as doing what was right like Uzziah, but then is added unlike him he did not enter the temple of the Lord. Things take a marked turn for the worse when Ahaz takes the thrown.

Ahaz was the consummate opportunist. He was guided by one principle — to save his skin by whatever means. It was during his reign that Assyria conquered Israel; indeed, by his invitation Assyria took the opportunity to ravage Israel until eventually destroying the country. Israel formed a partnership with Damascus to stand against Assyria. They wanted Judah to join them and intended to dethrone Ahaz, placing their own puppet king on the throne. Ahaz's reaction was to entreat the king of Assyria to come to his aid. The result was devastation for Israel and submission of Judah. Ahaz also used his throne to promote idolatry and even offered his own sons to the fires.

Hezekiah succeeded his father and clearly was not his "father's son." More so than Uzziah or Jotham, he followed the Lord, using his throne to bring reform to the country. It was Hezekiah who had the courage to tear down the altars built in the high places. He also dealt with the threat of Assyria, but unlike his father he turned to the Lord for deliverance through the counsel and encouragement of Isaiah.

The highlight of Hezekiah's and Isaiah's careers occurred in their response to a siege by Assyria. There were actually two separate threats made against Jerusalem by Sennacherib, king of Assyria. In the first, he sent his general to Jerusalem to order the surrender of the city. Dismayed, Hezekiah himself turned to the temple to pray and sent a petition to Isaiah to engage in prayer. Isaiah bolstered the king with an encouraging prophecy that the Assyrian king would turn away due to reports he would receive. Hezekiah did not give in, and, true to the prophecy, the king turned away with his army. Years later Sennacherib would send threats again to Hezekiah, who again would turn to God in prayer and would receive another promising word from Isaiah. That time, the Assyrian army was struck with a plague.

The scriptures do not record what happened to Isaiah. There is an apocryphal work entitled The Ascension of Isaiah which tells of how the prophet was sawed in two through the orders of Manasseh, son of Hezekiah and one of the more wicked kings of Judah. It may be in reference to this story that the author of Hebrews spoke of the men and women of faith who were killed in 11:37: They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.

The Book of Isaiah

"Of all the prophets of Israel, Isaiah stands out as incomparably the greatest." So opens the article on him in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. That's a pretty bold claim. After all, consider some of the prophets — Elijah and Elisha, the two prophets of whom the most is written and who performed great deeds such as calling down fire from heaven and raising the dead; Jeremiah, who wrote almost as much as Isaiah and who certainly rivals him in boldness as a prophet; Ezekiel, another major prophet known for his wondrous visions; or Daniel, known both as a political figure and visionary.


This claim for Isaiah rests on the overarching theme of his writings. As the writer goes on to say, "Writing with majestic grandeur, this gifted eighth-century B.C. author exalts the grace of God in salvation." And, indeed, there is no one like Isaiah in this respect. All the prophets, to be sure, proclaim the salvation of the Lord, but none can match Isaiah for the sheer volume and grandeur of proclamation regarding God's salvation.

Steadily and masterfully, the prophet casts and expands an exalted vision of the great act of redemption and restoration for God's people. He does not merely proclaim these things will take place, but he takes every act and concept to greater profundity and magnitude. It is in Isaiah that we are confounded with the true means of redemption — that the Lord would lay on the Messiah the iniquity of us all. In Isaiah we find a restoration more grand than could have been imagined — a new Jerusalem whose righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch, who will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God (Isaiah 62:1-3).

If I were to choose a theme verse for Isaiah it would be 40:5: And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. Glory shines through this book as the prophet forth tells the glory, majesty and holiness of God.

3 And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory" (6:3)

15 Therefore in the east give glory to the LORD;
exalt the name of the LORD, the God of Israel,
in the islands of the sea.
16 From the ends of the earth we hear singing:
"Glory to the Righteous One" (24:15-6)

5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the
LORD has spoken" (40:5)

8 "I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not give my glory to another
or my praise to idols (42:8)

Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made" (43:6,7)

23 Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this;
shout aloud, O earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
you forests and all your trees,
for the LORD has redeemed Jacob,
he displays his glory in Israel (44:23)

18 "And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory.
19 "I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations (66:18-9)

For Isaiah, the insight into the meaning of life is not merely that there is a God out there who loves us and offers a wonderful plan for us; it is that all things and everyone live for the glory of God. God does not exist for us; we exist for him. The wonderful news for us is that God is most glorified by his work of redemption.

In that day you will say:

"I will praise you, O LORD.
Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
and you have comforted me.
2 Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation."
3 With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
4 In that day you will say:

"Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you" (12:1-6).

21 "Remember these things, O Jacob,
for you are my servant, O Israel.
I have made you, you are my servant;
O Israel, I will not forget you.
22 I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me,
for I have redeemed you."

23 Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this;
shout aloud, O earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
you forests and all your trees,
for the LORD has redeemed Jacob,
he displays his glory in Israel (44:21-3).

A word about interpretation. We shy away from a book like Isaiah because it seems too difficult to understand. We are like the eunuch whom Philip met along the road. It was Isaiah that he was reading — 53:7,8 to be exact. Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" Philip did tell this sincere inquirer, and he explained that the passage spoke of Jesus.

Philip's interpretation is the key for our own interpretation. As we go through the book, my methodology will be as follows: I will take time to explain what the passage is saying. In the case of prophesying about the future, I will usually explain the passage in a three-fold manner: fulfillment before Christ, fulfillment by Jesus' first coming, and fulfillment in his second coming. In other words, we will see prophecy's fulfillment coming in stages until it reaches its ultimate fulfillment at the recreation that accompanies Jesus' second coming.


This morning I spoke of how Mark presents a wondrous picture of Jesus. One might say that Isaiah tops him. For in Isaiah we go back centuries earlier to one who spoke of this Messiah — who presented him as the Mighty God, the Redeemer who saves his people by his own death and who will come again to establish his glorious kingdom forever.

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