Lesson 1 of5
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Summary of Isaiah

SUMMARY

The first part of this long book contains messages of judgment and warning similar to those of the other eighth-century prophets. Isaiah condemns hypocritical worship, complacency, and the failure to act with justice for the poor. The prophet also speaks resounding words of promise, announcing God’s coming messianic kingdom.

The second part of the book brings words of comfort and hope to the exiles in Babylonian captivity in the sixth century B.C.E. This section introduces God’s suffering servant in passages that have become well known to believers in every generation.

A third part of the book contains both warnings and promises for the community after its return to Jerusalem following the fall of Babylon in 538 B.C.E.

SO WHAT?

Isaiah is the longest and most important of the prophetic books. It covers a long period of Israel’s history (before, during, and after the exile) and offers the full range of God’s prophetic message: terrifying words of judgment and comforting words of promise. Isaiah portrays God as the powerful Creator, like no other, and also the gentlest comforter, like an earthly lover or mother. Isaiah is taken up in the New Testament more fully than any other prophet.

WHERE DO I FIND IT?

Isaiah is the twenty-third book in the Old Testament and the first of the prophetic books. In present Protestant Bibles it follows the Song of Solomon and precedes the book of Jeremiah.

WHO WROTE IT?

The first part of the book is ascribed to Isaiah son of Amoz (eighth-century B.C.E.). Other parts were written later, containing prophetic messages addressed to people in the time of the Babylonian exile (587-538 B.C.E.) and then to others back in Jerusalem following the exile. Postexilic biblical editors gathered all these materials into this long and complex book, giving it a cohesive message and purpose despite all its diversity.

WHEN WAS IT WRITTEN?

Isaiah son of Amoz, the prophet behind the first part of the book, preached from about 738 B.C.E. until the early part of the next century, during the Assyrian conquest. The second part of the book is addressed to the exilic community in Babylon in the early part of the sixth century B.C.E. The final section apparently assumes the return to Jerusalem following the fall of Babylon in 538 B.C.E. The book contains the collected words of the prophets behind each of these three sections and was put together in its present form by editors sometime during the postexilic period.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Isaiah tells us that God’s word endures forever, speaking a message of comfort and challenge to hearers of its own time (eighth to sixth centuries B.C.E.) and memorable promises of messianic hope to every generation.

HOW DO I READ IT?

Like all books of prophecy, Isaiah should be read both with an ear for its message to the present hearer and with recognition of its roots in a particular historical time and place. It was a book addressed to its own time, but because the word of God endures throughout all generations, it speaks to the modern reader as well–not as predictions of the present and future from a distant past, but as a living word of God that brings hope and challenge now just as it has done throughout the ages. Prophetic books like Isaiah are, for the most part, written in poetry and should be read with an appreciation of their figurative and suggestive character rather than as literal blueprints for particular historical eras. Isaiah is a complex book, so some knowledge of its historical background will be of assistance to readers.

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