This explanation of the book of Isaiah is a revision of the explanation that was available for download for a number of years on www.oudesporen.nl. This revision concerns the insertion of the text of the Dutch Herziene Statenvertaling and an extension of the commentary. The reason is its publication in book form.
It has become – unlike the earlier internet version – a commentary by two authors. By the way, that should be interpreted in a broader sense. We have gratefully made use of what the Lord has already shown to others of the contents of this Bible book. We leave it up to the reader to check on the basis of God’s Word whether what is written in this commentary indeed corresponds to God’s purpose (Acts 17:11).
In these times, when the church is characterized by great weakness and different needs and problems, we desperately need the prophetic word. It is a proof of God’s grace that He has given prophets. He sends prophets when the people deviate from Him. Their message has two sides: judgment on those who persist in their rejection of His Word and blessing for those who heed the prophet’s call on God’s behalf.
Anyone who reads the book Isaiah attentively will be impressed by the topicality and the power of his message for us. It is more necessary than ever to motivate each other to take time each day (Acts 17:11b) to listen to what the Spirit has to say to us personally through the Word.
Let what God has said also be a regular topic of conversation in the family (Deu 6:6-9). This explanation can be a good tool for this. For example, after a meal we can read a part of the Bible book Isaiah, then the explanation of that part and talk about it with each other for a while. If we do this with a prayer to the Lord that our “heart may be enlightened” (Eph 1:18), the blessing will be experienced by the whole family (cf. Heb 6:7).
When a part of God’s Word has become clear(er), thank the Lord for what He has shown. God’s Word can also make it clear that we must confess something as sin. By giving thanks and confessing, what we read becomes our spiritual property, with which we can also serve others.
When we enter this beautiful part of the treasure chamber of God’s Word in prayer, we will come out of it with thanks, because we have met the Lord Jesus in this book. When Isaiah was called he saw His glory (Isa 6:1-3; Jn 12:36-41). In this book the glory of the Lord Jesus is painted for us in many colors. The more we see of it, the more our hearts are filled with thanksgiving and worship.
Ger the King / Tony Jonathan
Middelburg / Arnhem, May 2014 / Translation February 2021
What does the name ‘Isaiah’ mean to us when we read that name? Unfortunately, often not more than a name. But if we know the meaning of this name, hearing or reading it will make our hearts tremble with great joy, for his name means ‘the salvation of the LORD’. The name ‘Isaiah’ represents in one word the contents of the whole book.
The book of Isaiah is the largest and most comprehensive prophetic book of the Bible. The prophetic word is present in many aspects of this book. Isaiah speaks about the fulfillment of God’s counsel regarding His earthly people. This council means that God brings His purposed salvation over Israel and through Israel also over the Gentiles (Rom 15:9-12). This fulfillment will take place in the millennial realm of peace. In several parts of the book we already see a pre-fulfillment of this in our time. God’s glory becomes visible in all times in all His ways with people, both in grace and in judgment.
Isaiah is called ‘the evangelist of the Old Testament’. The good message – that is what the word ‘gospel’ means – which contains blessing and comfort (Isa 40:1), goes both to Israel and to the nations (Isa 49:6). That message is directly related to the great and central subject of the prophetic word: the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. His first coming as the suffering Servant of the LORD and also His second coming as King above all kings are highlighted in detail. Isaiah speaks about the birth of the Lord Jesus, about His food, His life, His death, His resurrection, His return and His kingdom of peace. We will find it all in this Bible book.
There is no Bible book in which we learn so much about the suffering, the glorification and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus as this of Isaiah. It is also not surprising that more is quoted from his prophecy in the New Testament than from any other book of the Old Testament. The New Testament contains about eighty-five quotes from Isaiah.
It is good to say one more word about prophecy in general. Prophecy has been compared with music that always sounds melodious to the hearing of faith (cf. 1Chr 25:1a,3). The meaning of prophecy is especially appreciated in times of trial and discipline and sorrow and decay of God’s people. Prophets are sent by God to His people in times of decay. Prophets are the mouth of God, the spokesmen of God (cf. Exo 7:1). They call upon a people who have departed from Him to return to Him so that He may bless them again. If they do not listen, the judgment must come. Warnings are followed by judgment. Judgment always applies to the ungodly mass of the people.
But judgment does not have the last word. For the prophets always have their eye on a God-fearing remnant, “a few survivors” (Isa 1:9). Sometimes the prophets themselves are a type of that remnant, like Isaiah (Isa 8:18). The characteristic of a remnant is that, as an object of God’s grace, it remains standing for God and His rights in the midst of decay.
Those who constitute the remnant also receive from the LORD a special announcement concerning the future, the end time (Isa 46:10). The end time is the coming of the Lord Jesus and the establishment of His kingdom. Many prophecies have not yet been fully fulfilled. That full fulfillment comes when the Lord Jesus establishes the kingdom of peace and reigns as Messiah. However, some prophecies have already had a partial, provisional fulfillment.
The true value of the prophecy is that it deals with a Person and not primarily with events. It is about Christ – see under ‘Central theme’. Prophecy is also not only the prediction of future events, but also the passing on of God’s thoughts and their application to heart and conscience (1Cor 14:3).
This ‘working method’ applies to the writing prophets, i.e. the prophets of whom we have a writing in the Bible. Non-writing prophets, for example Elijah and Elisha, prophesy in view of the actual situation of God’s people. They also prophesy about future things, but then they speak mainly about the immediate future, about things they often experience themselves. In their lives and history we do see the spiritual characteristics of the end times, the characteristics of decay.
When studying the books of the prophets we can notice three layers or manners of approaching.
In the first place prophecy has a direct, first meaning for the situation in the time in which the prophet performs.
In the second place we see in the books of the prophets a prophetic perspective. Then we see in the events of the days of the prophet a foreshadowing of events which will take place at the end of time.
Thirdly, every Bible book of the prophets, including Isaiah, is a typological book. ‘Typological’ means that events or persons are types or pictures from which we can learn spiritual lessons. Scripture itself says that the history of God’s people is written for that purpose and urges us to read Scripture in the same way (1Cor 10:6,11; Rom 15:4; Gal 4:21-31). The spiritual state of the people of God then speaks to us about the spiritual state of us as God’s people now.
It is important to note that prophecy has a literal fulfillment for Israel, God’s earthly people, and not for the church, God’s heavenly people. However, literal fulfillment for Israel should not prevent the church from drawing spiritual lessons from the prophecies.
Person of Isaiah
The name ‘Isaiah’ is the abbreviated form of Hebrew Yeshayahu and means ‘salvation of the LORD’, a name that is completely in accordance with the message of his book.
Isaiah is married. His wife’s name is not mentioned, but what she does is. She is called “the prophetess” (Isa 8:3). They have two sons. The names of these two sons are also mentioned. These names have a prophetic meaning. The youngest one is called “Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (Isa 8:3), which means “swift is the booty, speedy is the prey”. The oldest is called “Shear-jashub” (Isa 7:3), which means “a remnant will return”.
Isaiah lives in a time full of dangers, when the survival of Israel and Judah is at stake. He is called by the LORD at the end of the reign of King Uzziah to prophet, which is the year 740 BC (Isa 6:1). He is then still relatively young. The period of his ministry covers forty to fifty years. The area of his service and life is Jerusalem and its surroundings.
By his calling he sees the LORD of hosts (Isa 6:1-3). This stamps his life and service, just as Paul’s service and life were shaped by his meeting with the glorified Lord on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). The application for us is that the service we may do for the Lord must also be preceded by a personal encounter with Him.
According to tradition Isaiah is cruelly killed by the child-adolescent King Manasseh after he became king in 686 BC. Manasseh is then twelve years old. According to tradition, Manasseh put him in a hollow tree trunk and sawed him into pieces (cf. Heb 11:37). It is quite possible and not surprising that Satan raged like a roaring lion against Isaiah, who is such a powerful witness of God, and had him cut to pieces.
Satan did not only – according to tradition – have the person Isaiah cut into pieces. He has also tried, and is still trying, to cut his book into pieces by means of modern theologians. They claim that not one Isaiah, but three Isaiahs and that over a period of a few hundred years have written the book. It shows that Satan has understood the importance of the book Isaiah well, because otherwise he would not have made and done so much effort to attack Isaiah and his book so fiercely.
The discovery of the manuscripts of Isaiah in 1948 near the Dead Sea, the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls of Isaiah, which turn out to be a thousand years older than the then known manuscripts of the Masoretic Text, confirm the extremely accurate and reliable transmission of the biblical text. These manuscripts from the 2nd century AD do not exhibit the characteristics of several authors. On the contrary, where liberal theologians believe that there would be a transition from one writer to another, the text simply continues.
Isaiah is one of the greatest writers who ever lived. His writing style and literary qualities are, according to some experts, deeper and more brilliant than, for example, those of Shakespeare.
During the war in 734 BC between the coalition of Syria and Israel, the ten tribes realm, on the one hand, and Judah on the other hand, King Ahaz of Judah was very afraid (Isa 7:2). Isaiah assures him that the enemies will not be able to overcome Judah. In order to benefit from this promise Ahaz must put his trust in the LORD and not in an alliance with Assyria. Ahaz, however, does not put his trust in the LORD, but in Assyria. That is why God judges Judah through Assyria. All of Judah, except Jerusalem, is destroyed. At the last moment God, in His grace, redeemed Jerusalem by destroying the entire army of Assyria in one night (Isa 37:36).
Some typical expressions
Characteristic of the book of Isaiah is the expression Kadosh Yisrael, ‘the Holy One of Israel’, the three times holy God Who revealed Himself to Isaiah (Isa 6:1-3). This expression occurs twenty-five times in this book, twelve times in the first part (Isaiah 1-39*) and thirteen times in the second part (Isaiah 40-66**). This underlines the unity of this book. The same expression also occurs three times in Psalms (Psa 71:22; 78:41; 89:18), twice in Jeremiah (Jer 50:29; 51:5) and once in the second book of Kings (2Kgs 19:22).
Another key word in this book is the word jesha which means ‘salvation’. This word also occurs twenty-five times in this book, eight times in the first part and seventeen times in the second part. The fact that this word occurs so often must have contributed to Isaiah being called the ‘evangelist of the Old Testament’.
Another expression characteristic of Isaiah is Ebed Yahweh, which means ‘servant of the LORD’. In plural it is an indication for the people of Israel. In the singular, however, this expression is often not an indication for Israel, but for the promised Messiah. This is especially clear in the four songs we have about the servant of the LORD in this book (Isa 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:1-11; 52:13-15; 53:1-12).
Blessing for the nations
If the LORD gives salvation by grace, He cannot limit that salvation to Israel. Salvation goes to the whole world.
“He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth”” (Isa 49:6).
It should come as no surprise to us that the Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, has chosen Isaiah from all the Old Testament books to take with him from Jerusalem. In that book he meets Jesus when he is reading it during the journey back to his country after his visit to Jerusalem (Acts 8:27-28,35). Isaiah has preached to him the gospel that he accepts after the explanation by Philip. He is the first of the nations of whom Scriptures tell us that he has received part in salvation.
Subdivision of the book
The book of Isaiah can be divided in several ways. The large division is that into two main parts, with a small middle part in between:
1. Main part 1: Prophetic part (Isaiah 1-35).
This part is about God’s judgment on Israel and the nations. In it Assyria is used by God as an instrument, as a rod of discipline in His hand. The youngest son of Isaiah is given a name with a meaning that indicates the contents of this part: “Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (Isa 8:3). That name means, as has already been mentioned, ‘swift is the booty, speedy is the prey’.
2. Middle part: Historical part (Isaiah 36-39).
Here we see the history of Hezekiah as a type and illustration of the history of the faithful remnant of Israel. That remnant is tried and tested and comes in trouble both by its own sins and by enemies from outside. The LORD gives salvation through healing and deliverance.
3. Part 2: Messianic part (Isaiah 40-66).
This part is also a prophetic part. It is about the salvation of the LORD that will come upon the people despite the failure of Israel. God will eventually be able to bless the people thanks to the coming of the servant of the LORD, the Christ, the Messiah. Both names mean the same thing. Both Christ (Greek) and Messiah (Hebrew) mean ‘Anointed’.
The eldest son of Isaiah is given a name with a meaning that indicates the contents of this part: “Shear-jashub” (Isa 7:3). That name means, as has already been noted, “a remnant will return”. To this remnant God will give all His promised blessings.
The book of Isaiah is as it were a Bible in miniature. The first part, including the middle part, has as many chapters as the Old Testament Bible books, namely thirty-nine. In this part the emphasis is on God’s judgments on His people. Those judgments must come because God is the Holy One of Israel and His people have become unholy. In the Old Testament God’s holiness is also in the foreground.
The second part has as many chapters as the New Testament Bible books, namely twenty-seven. This part emphasizes that salvation is the result of God’s grace for Israel. In the New Testament God’s grace is also in the foreground.
The characters of the first and second main part are very different. This is related to the enemies of God’s people who play a leading role in each of these parts. In the first part Assyria is the enemy, in the second part it is Babylon. In the middle part the change from one enemy to the other is discussed. But He Who controls and governs everything is the God of Israel.
It is also possible to divide the book of Isaiah into seven parts:
1. Prophecies about Judah (Isaiah 1-12).
2. Burdens about the nations (Isaiah 13-27).
3. A sixfold woe about the folly of unbelief (Isaiah 28-35).
Each of these three parts ends with a song of praise.
4. History of Hezekiah (Isaiah 36-39).
In the next three parts we have three times nine chapters about the salvation of God. Each of these three parts ends with the fate of the wicked.
5. God versus idolatry and Babylon (Isaiah 40-47).
6. Christ the Servant of the LORD, His glorification after His suffering because of His rejection by the people (Isaiah 48-57).
7. The faithful remnant of Israel, by the Spirit connected with the Servant of the LORD (Isaiah 58-66).
Overview main part 1.1 – Isaiah 1-12
Sayings about Judah and Jerusalem
The first part of the first main part (Isaiah 1-35) includes Isaiah 1-12 and can be divided as follows:
1. Indictment of the LORD against His people (Isaiah 1:1-31)
2. The house of God and the reign of God (Isaiah 2:1-5)
3. The day of the LORD (Isaiah 2:6-22)
4. God’s judgment on Jerusalem and Judah (Isaiah 3:1-4:1)
5. Zion’s glorious future (Isaiah 4:2-6)
6. The parable of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7)
7. Condemnation of the sins of Judah (Isaiah 5:8-30)
8. The vision and calling of the Holy One (Isaiah 6:1-13)
9. The sign of Shear-jashub (Isaiah 7:1-9)
10. The sign of Immanuel (Isaiah 7:10-25)
11. The sign of Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:1-10)
12. Isaiah and his children as signs and wonders (Isaiah 8:11-18)
13. The light and the Child (Isaiah 8:19-9:7)
14. The judgment on Ephraim (Isaiah 9:8-10:4)
15. The judgment on Assyria (Isaiah 10:5-19)
16. The liberation of the remnant (Isaiah 10:20-34)
17. The Davidic King and His benevolent government (Isaiah 11:1-9)
18. The people and the nations (Isaiah 11:10-16)
19. A joyful hymn of praise (Isaiah 12:1-6)