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  1. Summary of Isaiah
  2. Outline of Isaiah
  3. Background of Isaiah
  4. Introductory Issues in Isaiah
  5. Theological Themes in Isaiah
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Lesson 3 of5
In Progress

Background of Isaiah

The first part of the book assumes the background of conflicts among Israel, Judah, Syria, and Assyria. Chapters 7 and 8 especially reflect the Syro-Ephraimite war in which Syria and Israel (Ephraim) attacked Judah, perhaps in an attempt to remove King Ahaz (735-715 B.C.E.) and force Judah to join a coalition against the expanding kingdom of Assyria. Isaiah urged Ahaz to “stand firm in faith” (Isaiah 7:9), relying on God’s promises to protect the Davidic throne, rather than allying himself with Assyria, but Ahaz rejected this counsel (2 Kings 16:5-9). Assyria came to the aid of Judah, but success was short-lived. After Assyria had conquered Damascus (Syria) in 732 B.C.E., it moved against Israel, destroying Samaria in 722/721 B.C.E. (the fall of the northern kingdom). Judah, the southern kingdom, then became a vassal state of the Assyrian empire.

Later, Isaiah again urges reliance on God when Hezekiah revolts against Sennacherib, the Assyrian king (about 705-701 B.C.E.), and seeks an alliance with Egypt (Isaiah 30:15b, 18; 31:1). Sennacherib is, in fact, defeated, and Jerusalem is spared (Isaiah 37:36-38). In all these events, Israel and Judah are buffeted between the great powers of the day, Egypt to the south and west, Assyria and Babylon to the north and east. The two kingdoms of God’s people seek advantage in one way or another, but the prophets, including Isaiah, recognize that the only advantage for such politically insignificant states is their reliance on the promises and protection of God. For the prophets, these promises include the coming messianic kingdom when God’s rule will be complete (see, for example, Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:2-7; 11:1-9).

In the second part of the book, Babylon has become the great power, and has destroyed Jerusalem and taken many of its people captive (597 and 587 B.C.E.). Now a new prophet, sometimes called “Second Isaiah,” preaches words of comfort, promising that God will bring release to the exiles (chapters 40-55). This happens in 538 B.C.E., when the Persian ruler, Cyrus, captures Babylon. The exiles’ return and the reestablishment of a new life in Jerusalem form the background of the final part of the book of Isaiah (chapters 56-66).

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