“For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives—for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life.” –Leviticus 17:11
It is impossible to properly understand the book of Isaiah the prophet outside of the historical context of Isaiah’s life. The events occurring in the land of Israel and throughout the known world at the time of his ministry were tumultuous. Empires battled one another for possession of the Fertile Crescent and Isaiah spoke to God’s chosen people in the midst of the chaos. Therefore, we must ascertain to the best of our ability the approximate period of history in which the prophet lived and ministered. We also need to understand the art of Hebrew prophecy itself and the words used to convey the rich complexity of meaning combined within the Hebrew “Navi” (Prophet).
In addition there is a need for the Spirit filled believer to resist the delusional approach of modern critical scholarship, which often sees no room for the miraculous or the impartation of divine knowledge concerning future events. To study Isaiah as we would any other historical work via historical analysis and literary device alone would be to miss the equally important revelation that is revealed by the Spirit of God and is beyond the reasoning of humanity. We must conclude that the book of Isaiah, like any other divinely inspired prophetic work within the canon of Scripture, can only truly be comprehended spiritually.
The age Isaiah lived in seems to be best summed up by the words Isaiah attributes to the generation he’s addressing, “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we will die” (Isaiah 22:13). In many ways these words also reflect the present generation and remind us that the words of Isaiah are timeless, speaking to every subsequent generation that rejects God in favour of its own appetites.
Isaiah lived at a pivotal time in Israel’s history, the two feuding kingdoms of Judah and Samaria were caught between the rival empires of Assyria and Egypt; each bent on consuming the known world and consolidating its territories into a single empire. The relatively small populations of Israel and Judah were in the path of both these kingdoms and represented the only monotheistic culture in the region at the time. In addition to the designs of military conquest, the two main powers of the Fertile Crescent also loosed a spiritual war between their gods and the God of Israel.
While the God of Israel was calling His people to a life of love, justice and righteousness, the gods of Assyria and Egypt who personified the forces of nature, were constantly tempting Israel to forsake her God and pursue her own carnal desires. In the face of such mighty nations, the Israelites looked at their weak position and often concluded that the gods of their enemies must be more powerful than HaShem. Based on this false assumption many Israelites had turned to pagan worship, though rather than embrace it entirely they had simply syncretized their beliefs; offering sacrifices to both Hashem and their new pagan deities. This is seen in the actions of king Ahaz the king of Judah:
“And in the time of his distress he trespassed even more against HaShem (YHVH: Mercy): this is that king Ahaz. For he sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus, which smote him: and he said, because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore I will sacrifice to them, that they may help me. But they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel.” –2 Chronicles 28:22-23
Biblical Hebrew prophecy is primarily cyclical in nature. While it has a point of conception in time and space and within the chronology of history, it also sits outside of those boundaries and is often fulfilled multiple times throughout history, past, present and future. Ultimately, this is because Biblical Hebrew prophecy is seeded by the Spirit of God, Who transcends time and space and in Whom time and space exist.
The book of Hebrews uses the Greek Prophetes to describe the prophets of the Tanakh (OT). This Greek word is a composite verb pro-phemi, which means “In advance, before” (pro) and “Speak, say, declare” (phemi). Thus it can be understood to mean either “To speak in advance” or “To speak for another”. This Greek word is a good representation of what the Hebrew Navi came to mean following the days when the term “Seer” was no longer used to describe Israel’s prophets.
During Israel’s early history there were three words used to describe her prophets: Navi, Ro’eh and Chozeh. The word Navi, meaning “Prophet” comes from the root naba, meaning “To well up” or “Speak forth”. Both Roeh and Chozeh are translated “Seer”. There was at one time a distinction between the two types of seeing that a seer practiced, however, the true understanding of that distinction has been lost. Ro’eh comes from the root ra’ah, which means “To see”, and is generally applied to physical sight. Thus it can be understood to refer to a type of visual discernment of present events. On the other hand Chozeh comes from the root chaza, which also means “sight” but seems to infer inward vision, and the ability to see what the physical eye is unable to comprehend (Isaiah 22:1). Each of the three Hebrew terms for prophet are used in the following passage:
“Now the acts of King David, the first and the last, behold, are written in the chronicles of Sh’muel (Hears God) the seer (Ro’eh), in the chronicles of Natan (Giver) the prophet (Navi) and in the chronicles of Gad (Troop) the seer (Chozeh)”
-2 Chronicles 29:29
To some degree the lives of the prophets Samuel, Nathan and Gad reflect the meaning of each of the Hebrew words used to describe their roles. Samuel heard from God and was able to direct Israel according to divine discernment. Nathan’s ministry combined both divine foresight and contemporary discernment, and a harsh declaration in the form of a mashal (parable) directed at Israel’s king David. Thus he is named by the Hebrew word navi which combines ro’eh and chozeh, and adds proclamation. Finally, Gad is given a ministry that foretells or tells beforehand.
The prophets of Israel were also frequently called “Man of God (The Judge)” Ish Elohim. Inferring “Man of Judgement” (1 Sam. 2:27a). They were less frequently called “Holy man of God” (2 Kings 4:9). Which adds holiness, a sense of being “set apart”. There are also times when HaShem calls them “My servants the prophets” (2 Kings 17:13).
1 Samuel 9:9 explains:
“Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, “Come, let’s go to the seer”—for today’s prophet was formerly called a seer.” (TLV)
In the end all three terms, ro’eh, hozeh and navi became interchangeable and eventually the term navi became the common designation of a Biblical Hebrew prophet of God. Therefore, the Hebrew navi, like its Greek equivalent prohetes, combines all the aforementioned attributes and functions of a prophet of God.
For the Jew, Moses is the ultimate prophet. He is called Moishe Rabbeinu (Moses our great one). His humble, anguished, relational, holy and self-sacrificial character sets the bar high for Israel’s subsequent prophetic voices. Each prophet of Israel must exhibit the essential characteristics of her prophetic prototype Moses.
Beginning with Moses and continuing throughout Israel’s prophetic journey there are key elements present in the lives of God’s prophets that distinguish them from the false prophets that God warned against (Isaiah 8:19-20).
A prophet of God can be best understood when compared with his counterpart the false prophet:
The Prophet of God is both a Preacher and a Messenger of Future Events
The prophet of God has a twofold message:
How does the Prophet of God Receive the Word of The Lord?
The Word (D’var) of The Lord (HaShem)
What the prophet spoke was D’var Elohim “The Word (D’var) of HaShem”, which was made manifest through the prophet’s:
By far the most common method of delivery of God’s message was orally in the hearing of the people (Isaiah 1; Jeremiah 7:1-2; Ezekiel 17:1-2). Often the message was also written down, as is the case with the book Isaiah (Jeremiah 30:2; Isaiah 30:8; Habakkuk 2:2).
The Life and Work of Isaiah
Yishaiyahu (Isaiah: Salvation of YHVH [Mercy]) could almost be called the halfway prophet. That is, halfway between Moshe (Drawn out) and Yeshua (Salvation). Yishaiyahu (Isaiah) the son of Amotz (Strong) was a contemporary of Amos (Burden [Not the same as Amotz]), Hoshea (Salvation) and Micah (Who is like God?). God had placed each of these men throughout Israel during the 8th to 7th Centuries BCE as a warning and a hope for all the people.
Few details are known about Isaiah’s life. There is a Jewish tradition claiming that Amotz his father was brother to Amaziah, However there is no way to verify this. From the text we can glean that Isaiah was probably a resident of Jerusalem and a member of a prominent family. We also know that Isaiah was married and referred to his wife as “The Prophetess” (Isaiah 8:3).
Isaiah had two sons: Shear Yashub “Remnant shall return” and Maher Shelal hash baz “Hurry spoil, quickly loot” (Mentioned by name in Isaiah 7:3 & 8:1-3). It seems clear that Isaiah’s entire family were united in their devotion to HaShem and that their lives were in submission to the prophetic vocation of the head of their home. As a family they became a living testimony to the truth and faithfulness of God.
“Now! Here I am, I and the children that HaShem (YHVH Mercy) has given me are signs and tokens of future events in Israel, from Hashem-Tzva’ot (YHVH over heavens armies) who dwells on Mount Tziyon (Parched place).” –Yishaiyahu (Isaiah) 8:18
Isaiah’s name unifies the message of all his prophecies. He brings the redemptive message that “YHVH [Mercy] Saves” (Yishaiyahu). Both his name and his message he shares in common with the future Messiah Whom he frequently alludes to in terms of a suffering servant and a victorious King, that is Yeshua (YHVH [Mercy] Saves).
Like Eliyahu (Elijah) and Yochanan (John), Isaiah often wore a garment of hair cloth and sackcloth around his loins and sandals on his feet (Isaiah 20:2-6).
Isaiah’s Birth and Death
We can only approximate the dates of Isaiah’s birth and death. From Isaiah 1:1 we can deduce that the prophet’s ministry covered at least part of the reign of Uzziah during the period of his leprosy when his son Jotham was co-regent (2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chronicles 26:21), and all of the reign of Ahaz and that of Hezekiah. Tradition (Both Jewish and Christian) holds that Isaiah was murdered by the ungodly king Manasseh during his reign of terror. In all, Isaiah’s ministry spanned from approximately 750 – 680 BCE.
The prophets of the Tanakh (OT) were usually called to ministry in their youth. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Isaiah was approximately 25-30 years of age at the time of Uzziah’s death (Isaiah 6:1 [740 BCE]). 2 Chronicles 32:32 indicates that Isaiah outlived Hezekiah (687 BCE) and recorded his deeds. Thus the latter years of Isaiah’s life are lived during the beginning of wicked Manasseh’s reign (687-642 BCE). The tradition concerning Isaiah’s martyrdom is based on 2 Kings 21:16a and some of the early Church fathers saw the means of Isaiah’s execution in Hebrews 11:37 “They were sawn in two”. If the ancient tradition is reliable, we can estimate that Isaiah lived to be approximately 92 years of age, 7 years of which were under the reign of Manasseh, making the date of his death approximately 680 BCE. By combining the internal Scriptural evidence and Jewish tradition we can make an educated guess that Isaiah lived approximately 90 plus years from 770 to 680 BCE.
Isaiah the Historian
In addition to the role of prophet it seems that Isaiah also acted as a historian. 2 Chronicles 26:22 reads, “Now the rest of Uzziah’s acts from beginning to end were recorded by Isaiah son of Amoz.” 2 Chronicles 32:32 reads, “Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, behold, they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, and in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel.” The identification of Isaiah as a scribe within these two texts gives weight to the orthodox view that the prophet himself recorded the entire written form of the book that came to be called by his name.
Who Wrote the Book of Isaiah?
As alluded to earlier, I reject outright the assumption ridden theories of the so called “critical” theologians. Much of their conjecture has been disproved by archaeological evidence discovered subsequent to the publishing of their theories. Like the theory of evolution, the theory of multiple authors for Isaiah becomes more and more untenable with every passing year.
One of the most compelling reasons for rejecting the multiple author theory is the fact that both Yeshua (Jesus) and His apostles understood Isaiah to be the author of the entire prophetic work named after him. They did not once attribute Isaiah’s words to an unknown author or authors, nor did they cite an unknown prophet or a disciple of Isaiah as being the author of the prophet’s words. The New Testament as a whole understands Isaiah to be the recorded words of the prophet Isaiah alone, quoting the book of Isaiah in 21 places and calling the prophet by name. The Jewish sages and the early Church fathers also affirm the singular authorship of the book. For an extensive and well-argued refutation of the critical multiple author theory please read the excellent work titled “The Prophet Isaiah” by the Messianic Jewish commentator Victor Buksbazen, Th.D.
We must conclude that (in spite of the assumptions and circular logic of the critical school of theologians) the book of Isaiah in its entirety, contains the words of Isaiah the prophet alone and was either written down by Isaiah himself and or one of his disciples during Isaiah’s lifetime or completed within several years of his passing.
The Literary style of the Book of Isaiah
Isaiah’s book is the work of the one man (notwithstanding the contrary opinions of many theologians). The literary style of Isaiah’s work is characterized by a fondness for word play, alliteration and Hebrew poetic couplings. He also uses allegory and (parables) to emphasize particular points. His writing is not confined to Israel alone but speaks to all humanity, offering God’s mercy universally (Isaiah 19:24, 25).
It’s probable that Micah the younger contemporary of Isaiah, who lived approximately 53 km south of Jerusalem in a town called Moreshet, was a personal friend and one with whom he cooperated. This would explain the almost identical texts of Isaiah 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-3. It is also likely that both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who lived after Isaiah, were familiar with the prophecies of Isaiah.
Josephus the Roman Jewish historian says that Cyrus the Great, the conqueror of Babylon was so impressed by the accuracy of Isaiah’s prophecies, which mentioned him by name (Isaiah 45:1), that in 538 BCE, some 140 years after the prophet’s death, he permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem.
More than any other Hebrew prophet, Isaiah illuminated the transcendent figure of Israel’s Messiah in His dual role as God Anointed Reigning King and Suffering Servant, pouring out His life for the redemption of many. This 8th to 7th century BCE Seer from the small mountain kingdom of Judah spoke repentance, wrath and life into the ears of his own generation, and in his writings, his voice lives on to challenge us today, almost three thousand years later (Isaiah 34:1-2; 11:1-9).
The Hebrew Text of Isaiah
The manuscripts of Isaiah found in the Qumran caves in 1947, which are over 1000 years older than any previously known text of Isaiah (1st Century BCE), are essentially the same as the Masoretic text (916 CE/AD).
Isaiah came of age during the reign of Uzziah (Also known as Azariah) in the years between 792 and 740 BCE. Uzziah was a “good king” who was overcome by his pride (2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23).
Uzziah was responsible for restoring the Red Sea port of Eilat to Judah, subduing the Ammorites and Philistines, and developed the agriculture and domestic product of Judah, increasing her ability to trade with other nations. However, during his reign the spiritual climate declined and genuine daily faith was replaced with the appearance of piety and tradition for tradition’s sake. The nation’s labourers and poor were exploited by the rich and Judah became much like her idolatrous neighbour Samaria (As recorded in Amos, Hosea, and Micah). The pagan influences of other stronger nations crept in to Judah’s culture and were soon attached to the worship practices of Judah. There was however a God fearing remnant within Judah. A remnant that inspired Isaiah’s hope in the ultimate regeneration and revival of Israel (Isaiah 6:13; 1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:5).
It seems that the military and economic success experienced by Uzziah went to his head. Unsatisfied with his role as king of Judah he sought to usurp the authority of Israel’s priesthood.
“But when he (Uzziah/Azariah) was strong, his core being was lifted up to destruction: for he transgressed against HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) his Elohim (God: Judge), and went into the temple of HaShem to burn incense upon the altar of incense.” –2 Chronicles 26:16
Due to this sacrilegious action Uzziah contracted leprosy at the hand of God. He lived the final years of his life in isolation while his son Jotham ruled over Judah as co-regent. Upon Uzziah’s death in 740 BCE Jotham became king of Judah. It was at some point near the end of Uzziah’s life during the period of his leprosy that Isaiah began his public ministry (aged approx. 30 years) [Isaiah 6:1].
Prior to Uzziah’s death Assyria had been preoccupied with military campaigns to the north and south of the land of Israel, giving Judah a reprieve from the occupation of the Assyrian armies. However, when Tiglathpileser 3rd became the ruler of Assyria (745-727 BCE) things changed dramatically. The Bible uses Tiglathpileser’s native name Pul (2 Kings 15:19; 1 chronicles 5:26). In order to fulfil his dream to create a world empire Pul needed to consolidate the small kingdoms of the region which included Hamat, Arpad, Damascus, Sidon, Tyre, Samaria, Judah, the cities of the Philistines, Moab. This campaign would end with his seeking to take the land of Egypt.
Pul defeated Hamat and Arpad and subdued Rezin of Damascus (750-732 BCE), and his ally Menachim of Samaria (752-742 BCE) [2 Kings 15:19]. During the reign of Pekah (740-732) of Samaria Pul annexed the Galilee and Gilead and deported the tribes beyond the Jordan to Assyria (2 Kings 15:27-31). By the time Ahaz succeeded to the throne of Judah (735-715 BCE) Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Samaria (Both now vassal kings of Assyria) invaded Judah (2 Kings 16:5-6; Isaiah 7-8). Possibly in the hope of forcing Ahaz into an alliance against their Assyrian overlords. Ahaz made the fatal mistake of asking Pul for help. In order to seal the deal Ahaz made Pul a gift of silver and gold from the Temple of HaShem. However, "He (Pu“) helped him not” (2 Chronicles 28:21). Latter Shalmaneser (727-722 BCE) laid siege to Samaria. The city was eventual captured by his successor Sargon 2nd (722 BCE) and its inhabitants deported. At this time the independent kingdom of Assyria came to an end (2 Kings 17:4-6). The prominent families of Samaria were deported to Assyria and Sargon replaced them with colonists who brought their own native gods into Samaria and eventually syncretized their worship practices with the worship of HaShem, accepting an understanding of the Law of Moses that delegitimized Jerusalem and the temple mount replacing it with Mount Gerizim. They eventually became a mixed ethnic group of part pagan part Israelite people practicing a defiled form of Biblical Judaism (2 Kings 17:41; Jeremiah 40:7; 41:5). The new Samaritan nation with their rival centre of worship (Mt Gerizim) was a thorn in the side of the Jews from the very beginning. This historical knowledge helps us better understand the depth of hatred expressed between Jews and Samaritans at the time of Messiah (John 4:9, 8:48; Luke 9:51-53) [First Century CE].
With the fall of Samaria it was only a question of time before Judah would be overthrown. However the residents of Judah continued to behave as they had been for generations, as if the day of God’s judgement would never come (Isaiah 22:13). When we look back on the history of the divided kingdom during the lifetime of Isaiah we see that the leaders of Judah and Israel seem to have lacked political wisdom and were unable to properly discern the very obvious warnings of their impending doom. Only spiritual men like the prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah were afforded insight and a clear understanding of the events that were unfolding. These prophets warned the people of God’s coming judgement, calling all Israel to teshuva (Turn around in repentance). Regarding national politics both Isaiah and later Jeremiah counselled against becoming entangled with other nations. Isaiah warned his people that Israel’s salvation could only come from God. Early in his ministry Isaiah rebuked Ahaz for calling on the Assyrian Pul for help (Isaiah 8:5-8). Later Isaiah was equally outspoken concerning a proposed alliance with Egypt against Sennacherib (Isaiah 31:1-6). Isaiah’s message was consistent and clear, “For through the voice of HaShem shall the Assyrian who beat with the rod be beaten down” (Isaiah 30:31). However, the rulers of Israel and Judah ignored Isaiah’s warnings preferring their own human understanding to his godly perspective. They practiced a ritual form of syncretized Judaism that was really just a strange mix of paganism and atheism. In spite of Judah’s failure to repent the prophet’s earnest plea on her behalf stayed the hand of God for another century. Thus Jerusalem was spared the wrath of Sennacherib in 701 BCE.
The reign of wicked Ahaz guided Judah toward her destruction but was followed by the God fearing (imprudent) Hezekiah. Under his reign Sennacherib invaded Judah and captured most of her cities with the exception of Jerusalem. The Assyrian history records these events from Sennacherib’s perspective:
“As for Hezekiah the Jew, who did not submit to my yoke, 46 of his strong walled cities, as well as the smaller cities in their vicinity… I besieged and took… As for Hezekiah, the terrifying splendour of my majesty overcame him… his mercenary troops deserted him.”
-[Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia Volume 2, Section 240 (Chicargo 1926)]
God answered the prayers of Isaiah and in response to Hezekiah’s humbling of himself HaShem delivered Jerusalem and destroyed the Assyrian army with a plague (701 BCE). However, Hezekiah’s pride, like that of his grandfather Uzziah, was eventually his undoing (2 Chronicles 32:25-26).
Judah survived precariously for another century finally coming to the end of her independence when Babylon (Once a province of Assyria) became master of the Mesopotamian Empire stretching from the gulf of Persia and just shy of the banks of the Nile.
For over half a century Isaiah witnessed all these events seeing by the revelation of God that which the physical eye could not see. By the Word of HaShem he was able to make detailed and specific prophecies concerning future events, including events that occurred many years after his death (each confirmed by history and or archaeology), the greatest of those being the accuracy with which he prophesied the events concerning Israel’s Messiah, a man who walked the earth approximately 640 years after Isaiah’s death.
The Themes of Isaiah:
Isaiah Chapter 1
The first chapter acts as an introduction to the entire book and forms a prologue to the collection of messages that Isaiah brings to Judah, Israel and the nations.
Verses 2-9 bring the charges of ingratitude, apostasy and corruption against the nation.
Verses 10-31 Describe Israel’s worship practices as hypocritical and an attempt to sweep her moral ineptitude under the rug of vain religious ritual. This is followed by a call to repentance before God’s wrath is unleashed upon the whole nation. A repentant remnant will escape judgement but the remainder of the nation will be destroyed.
As a man who is indigenous to the land of Judah and a citizen of Jerusalem, Isaiah directs his prophecies primarily toward the people of his native land Judah and her spiritual capital Jerusalem. However, within the greater narrative of God’s redemptive purpose, Isaiah’s vision centred on Israel’s ultimate destiny, her restoration and redemption and the subsequent redemption of the nations.
Text of Isaiah 1:
1:1 The chazon vision (perception, seeing) of Yishaiyahu (Salvation of YHVH [Mercy]) son of Amotz (Strength), which he chaza saw (perceived, beheld) concerning Yehudah (Praise) and Yeru-shalaiym (Downpour of Peace), in the days of Uzziyahu (My Strength is YHVH [Mercy]), (YHVH [Mercy] is Perfect, complete, innocent), Achaz (He has grasped), and Y’chezkiyahu (YHVH [Mercy] is my strength), kings of Yehudah (Praise):
The words chaza (to see) and chazon (vision, revelation) are both from a root that describes spiritual perception revealed by God to His chosen servants the prophets of Israel.
We could read, “The revelation given by God to Yishaiyahu (Salvation of YHVH)…”
The opening line of the book of Revelation comes to mind: “The Revelation of Yeshua (Salvation of YHVH) the Mashiyach which God gave to him (John)…” (Revelation 1:1).
The phrase “In the days of” means that Isaiah began his ministry in the (later) days of Uzziah (Approx. 750 BCE) and ministered for approximately 65 years, passing away (Possibly murdered by Manasseh) in 685 BCE.
A reading using the meanings of the Hebrew names is illuminating:
“The vision of Salvation from Mercy, son of Strength, which he saw concerning praise and a downpour of peace, in the days of my strength is Mercy, Mercy is innocent, he has grasped and Mercy is my strength, the kings of praise.”
The fact that the book opens with the phrase “which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” does not as Rashi suggests, mean that this was not the beginning of his ministry. Rashi and others cite 6:1 as evidence for their position along with the fact that Isaiah prophesied concerning other nations as well as Judah. However, we know from 1:1 that he began his ministry while Uzziah lived, whereas 6:1 tells us about a reconfirmation of Isaiah following the death of Uzziah. Why? Because a new king (Jotham) had come to power and the prophet’s authority was being re-established before the new monarch. With regard to the fact that Isaiah prophesied concerning other nations, there is no problem, for “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).
2 Shemu Hear, listen, receive, perceive and obey! Shamayim Heavens, v’ha’azini and use your ears, broaden your perspective, eretz earth,
for Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]) d’var speaks:
The alliteration employed here gives a strength of rhythm to the language that draws the attention of the Hebrew audience. The impact of Israel’s sin is so far reaching that HaShem calls out the heavens and the earth as witnesses (Deut. 17:6).
These opening lines reflect the song of Moses:
“Ha’azinu Give ear ha-shamayim you heavens v’a’dabeirah and I will speak, v’tishma and hear ha-etretz O earth, the words of my mouth.” –Deuteronomy 32:1
Moses begins by addressing the ears (ha’azinu) of the heavens and continues by addressing the hearing (v’tishma) of the earth. Whereas Isaiah reverses this order beginning by addressing the hearing (Shemu) of the heavens and continuing by addressing the ears (v’ha’azini ) of the earth.
“The term ha-azinah, give ear, is reserved for the physically more distant listeners, whereas the term shemi-ah, hearing, is reserved for listeners close at hand. For this reason Moses uses the former term when calling on the Heavens and the latter when addressing the earth. When in contrast to Isaiah 1, 2, Moses refers to the origin of the message being himself not G-d, he emphasises the importance of what he is about to say rather than who is saying it. Moreover, “giving ear,” refers to listening done with the mind, whereas “hearing” refers to listening done with one’s senses, one’s physical ears.” –Akeidat Yitzchak 103:33
It seems that at least in a figurative sense Isaiah is alluding to the ability of the heavens (The host of Hashem) to perceive the spiritual message whereas the earth (symbolic of humanity and specifically Israel), is presently unable to hear in the spiritual sense and must therefore listen with the physical ear.
Isaiah makes it abundantly clear that these are HaShem’s words.
“Baniym Sons & daughters I have raised and brought up,
but they have rebelled against Me.
The Hebrew terms gidalti ve-romamti have a dual meaning. While they refer to the raising of children to maturity they can also be understood to mean, “I make great and of high stature”. In other words, “I’ve prospered you and given you a position of honour in the earth”.
The Hebrew poshu meaning to “rebel, revolt, transgress, break away”, is from the root pasha which means to “stride or rush”. Thus the sense here is that the sons and daughters of Hashem (Israel/Judah) have not merely sinned, they have intentionally broken away from relationship to Hashem and have done so in haste in spite of His devotion toward them. This is the heart broken cry of the Father. A charge concerning broken relationship and its consequences.
3 The bull knows koneihu the one who purchased it,
and the donkey its eibus feeding trough,
B’alayn but his husband Yisrael (Overcome in God) does not know,
Ami My people do not hit’bonan discern .”
The couplets of knowledge and discernment are first pictured in the knowledge of the purchased bull and the discernment of the donkey. These dumb animals act more righteously than Israel, who has chosen to reject the authority and bride-price of her Husband Hashem and now lacks the ability to discern where her nourishment comes from. At this time Israel lacked the basic intelligence to acknowledge that she had been redeemed by HaShem and the discernment needed in order to show gratitude toward her Husband. None the less, in His Mercy Hashem calls her Ami (My people).
We note that while the bull knows the price paid for him and the donkey knows where his food comes from, Israel, those who have overcome in God, not only fail to know their Husband (HaShem), they are also lack understanding. They have knowledge of the things of this world but because they are devoid of the knowledge of HaShem they lack the discernment needed to avoid destruction.
4 Hoy, a goy nation who chotei misses the way,
a people weighed down with avon perversity, bent, evil, iniquity, guilt
zera (seed) offspring m’reiym (gone bad) of evildoers,
baniym sons and daughters mash’chiytiym decaying (dealing corruptly)!
The alliteration again emphasizes the weighty charge against Israel. HaShem had called Israel to be a Goy kadosh, a holy nation, but she had become a Goy chotei, a nation who has lost the way. As a people (Am), Israel’s collective actions were beyond generic sin, they were perverse, heavy with guilt. More than that they had become generationally wicked, the progeny of those who have turned a once God fearing culture into a syncretized pagan abomination. Thus they were decaying both physically and spiritually.
They have forsaken Hashem (YHVH [Mercy])
They have shown contempt for k’dosh the Holy One of Yisrael (Overcome in God)
Nazru achor Estranged at the rear (They have turned backwards).
Once more the charge of relational abandonment is levelled against Israel. She has forsaken the Husband of her youth. What’s more she has squeezed lemon juice into the wound by showing contempt for the holy and faithful character of God. In doing so she also shows contempt for her own role as the nation set apart (made holy) for His redemptive purpose. As a result she has become disconnected from the rich spiritual sustenance HaShem offers and has chosen instead to walk in the opposite direction toward the rear, an idiom that conveys the sense of being behind cattle, walking in their excrement.
5 Upon what will you be struck continually,
increasing your turning away more and more?
This text is often mistranslated, taking the Hebrew phrase al mei “On what?” to mean lamah “Why?”
In fact the author is not asking “Why are you being struck?” but “For what reason do you continue to allow yourself to be struck?” This is an incredulous statement which emphasizes again the stupidity and lack of discernment alluded to in verse 2. A dumb animal will respond to being struck by turning in the right direction, whereas Israel has responded to God’s discipline by continuing to turn away in spite of repeated blows.
The whole head is sick,
the whole l’vav core being (heart) faint.
The whole head refers to both the kings and priests of Israel. The political and spiritual leaders of God’s people have become corrupt and are leading the people toward physical and spiritual destruction. Thus the core morale of the people has dropped to an all-time low and their national identity has been made vulnerable to assimilation. The “Heart of the nation” as it were, has become sick due to the wickedness of her leaders and her own acceptance of that same wickedness. Which is at its core, rebellion against God, the sin of idolatry.
6 From the base of the foot to the head
there is no soundness.
Israel is covered entirely in wounds that are the consequences of her sin. From the base of her sinful human nature to the heights of her spiritual pride there is no good in her (With the exception of the remnant).
Blows, bruises and open sores:
no pressure applied, not bandaged,
nor softened with oil.
This description of the lack of care for Israel’s wounds is the counterpoint to the method of care employed in Israel at this time in history. Wounds were often pressed out to clear them of infectious material and then oil was used as a salve prior to the bandaging of the wound to protect from further infection. Isaiah is using this figurative language to express the idea that Israel’s spiritual condition mirrors that of a person whose entire body is affected by infectious open sores that have not been treated in any way. Israel had not acted to cleanse her spiritual wounds when they were first made manifest, nor has she sought to soften her wounds with oil (the Ruach Ha-Kodesh) and as a result her wounds (which represent the consequences of sin) have not been covered (bandaged) and therefore remain as a testimony against her.
7 Your land is desolate;
your cities are burned with fire;
your ground in front of you,
overthrown by strangers.
Having described the decaying state of the nation of Israel, the prophet now describes the desolation of the land. He makes a connection between moral decay and physical decay.
This verse seems to describe the state of the land of Judah during the reign of Hezekiah prior to the birth of Isaiah (701 BCE) soon after Nebuchadnezzar withdrew from Jerusalem having decimated the cities of Judah.
8 So the Daughter of Tziyon (Parched land) is left
as a sukkah temporary dwelling in a vineyard,
like a hammock in a garden of cucumbers,
like a besieged city.
Judah (Jerusalem) had lost the security of her surrounding cities (Ransacked by Nebuchadnezzar) and had been made vulnerable to future invasion. Therefore the prophet explains Israel’s precarious situation in terms of a watchman’s temporary shack positioned in a vineyard to keep an eye on the crop, and a hammock in a cucumber patch that can only be used when the weather is fine. Jerusalem and Mount Zion have become like a besieged city.
9 Unless HaShem (YHVH [Mercy]) Tzva’ot (Host, goes forth)
had left us a small sarid (group of survivors),
we would have been as S’dom (burning),
we would have resembled Amorah (Submersion).
In these lines Isaiah identifies with his people saying, “Unless Hashem of Hosts had left us a small group of survivors”.
The comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah recognizes that these towns were completely wiped out whereas Israel is being left a small holy remnant. In the midst of the charges levelled against her Israel is offered the seed of redemption in the small group of survivors (fugitives).
While some translate sarid as remnant, Isaiah uses a different Hebrew word for remnant, shear (Isaiah 10:21-22; 11:11, 16), even naming one of his sons “Shear–Yashub” A remnant shall return (Isaiah 7:3).
10 Shemu Hear, listen, receive, perceive and obey the d’var Word of HaShem (YHVH [Mercy]), you rulers of S’dom (burning)!
Give ear to the Torah (Instruction) of our Elohiym (God, Judge),
you people of Amorah (Submersion)!
Here the call to Shemu hear is made again, this time rather than calling the heavens and the earth as witnesses, Isaiah calls on the people to pay attention to the two witnesses of HaShem: His living Word (D’var emet) and His written (ketvi) Instruction (Torah). The prophet uses the poetic coupling technique in order to equate the Word (D’var) and the Instruction (Torah).
The rulers are challenged to hear (Shemu) the Word of Mercy that they might be delivered from their burning and the people are challenged to give ear (ha’azinu) to the written Instruction (Torah) of Hashem so that they might be delivered from submersion. In other words, the leaders, both political and spiritual, are to listen to the spiritual instruction of HaShem and encourage the people to hear and practice the written moral code of HaShem. The former is Aggadah (Telling) and the latter is Halakhah (the way we walk) born of Ha-d’var emet (The Word of Truth) and ha-k’tuvim (the writings).
God is described as the Merciful YHVH and as the Judge Elohiym.
Israel are being called to return to a washing in the Word and actions that are weighed righteous before the Judge. Thus the call to repentance comes first and the rebuke follows.
11 “For what is it to Me— many sacrifices?”
Says Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]).
“I’ve received an excessive amount of burnt offerings of rams
and fat of well-fed animals.
And in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs or he-goats, I do not delight.
Isaiah has just called for a return to the Torah, the same Torah that commands the sacrificial offerings. Therefore when HaShem says, “What is it to Me” and “I’ve received an excessive amount”, He is saying that the offerings being brought, though technically correct, are not being offered with pure hands or with a right heart. HaShem is not saying that He despises offerings and sacrifices but rather He despises vain tradition practiced by wicked men.
“Woe to you, scribes and P’rushim, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint, anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the Torah: judgment, mercy, and trust: you should have done the former without leaving the latter undone.” –Matthew 23:23
12 When you enter to l’raot to perceive panay My face,
who has required this at your hand--
trampling My courts?
“When you come to appear before me” refers to the Aliyot regalim (The going up festivals) Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot (Exodus 23:17). All the men who were of age and their households were to go up to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate these holy convocations with reverence and awe. Instead Israel had made a foolish spectacle out of their practices at the Aliyot festivals.
“Who has required this?” is a way of saying, “Why do you bring extra sacrifices and offerings instead of appearing before me with contrite hearts in repentance and awe?”
The trampling of the courts of Hashem brings to mind the incredulity expressed by Yeshua when He saw traders profiteering in the outer courts of the temple during His earthly ministry (Matthew 21:12).
13 Don’t bring an increase of offerings of emptiness!
Incense that is an abomination to Me.
The text is very clear. It is empty piety that God rejects, and incense that bears the stench of sin that He abhors.
Chodesh New Moon and Shabbat, the calling of holy gatherings,
—I won’t stand for it (accomplish it)--
avein wickedness, idolatry and iniquity with solemn assembly.
Why does Hashem refuse to stand for the holy convocations He has previously commanded? It is because they have been defiled by other gods and the festering sin of Israel’s priests, rulers and the common man. Israel had mixed idolatry and sin with her solemn assemblies, thus making them an aberration.
14 Chad’sheichem Your New Moons and your Festivals
My nefesh soul (All that I am) hates!
They have become upon me a burden.
I am weary of bearing them.
We note that the text says that it is “Your New Moons and Festivals” which Hashem hates. He does not hate the festivals but the idolatrous syncretized practice that Israel has made of them.
15 When you spread out your hands palm up,
I will conceal My eyes from you.
Also though your prayers are many,
I will hear nothing.
Your hands with bloods will be filled!”
Standing with arms outstretched and palms facing upward was a traditional prayer practice of ancient Judaism. In and of itself there was nothing wrong with the symbolic nature of this position of prayer. However, as the text says, “Your hands with bloods (plural) are filled”. Meaning that those approaching Hashem have shed innocent blood and have come before Him without remorse, nor did they have any intention of changing their behaviour. Thus their religious practices were nothing more than a performance meant for the eyes of men.
16 “Rachatsu Wash and be hizaku pure.
Turn away from your evil practices
those made conspicuous before My eyes.
Cease doing evil.
The Hebrew rachatsu refers to physical cleanliness, used here as a metaphor regarding the need for the people to cleanse themselves from their filthy actions. Whereas hizaku refers to inward cleanliness. The need to examine one’s self with sober moral judgement.
The phrase “made conspicuous” is a way of saying, “You’re flaunting your sin practices in front of Me. Stop it!”
17 Study how to do what is good,
seek mishpat judgement, advance the cause of the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.”
The Scriptures often use the threefold figures the oppressed, orphan and widow to represent all those who in some unique way need the protection and special care of the community.
“You must not mistreat any widow or orphan. If you mistreat them in any way, and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will burn hot, and I will kill you with the sword. So your wives will become widows and your children will become orphans. If you lend money to any of My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act like a debt collector with him, and you are not to charge him interest.” –Shemot (Exodus) 22:21-24
However, in the present case Israel has clearly neglected to pay attention to the weightier matters of the Torah. Failing to protect and care for the destitute has meant that those in need have been crying out to God and He will answer the greed of their oppressors with discipline.
The Hebrew lim’du means to study. The opening phrase, “Study how to do what is good” is both an instruction and a rebuke. Anyone who does not know how to do what is good is not walking in right relationship with Hashem.
“Seek judgement” can also be read, “Seek justice”. Both are needed: sober self-judgement and justice for the oppressed.
18 “Come now, let us reason/decide together,”
says Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]).
L’cho-na “Come now” is a familiar formula for approaching a reasoned conversation regarding volatile issues.
Notice that it is Hashem the Merciful One Who offers this opportunity to parlay.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
they will become like wool.
The use of the colours scarlet, crimson and red is meant to convey both the death (blood loss) that results from sin and the life (blood infusion) that produces life (a reprieve from death) through the sacrificial shedding of the blood offered on the altar.
“For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives—for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life.” –Leviticus 17:11
“In fact, the Torah requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” –Hebrews 9:22
We know that the blood of animals was never enough to cleanse us entirely (Hebrews 10:4) and that therefore Hashem sent His Son Yeshua to be the innocent lamb Who would sacrifice Himself in order to impart the gift of eternal life through His own life giving blood.
The white snow refers specifically to newly fallen snow and is a metaphor symbolizing purity. Likewise the wool is that of an innocent lamb.
19 If you accept and hear, understand and obey,
you will eat the good of the land.
20 But if you refuse and rebel,
you will be eaten with the sword.”
For the mouth of Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]) has spoken.
Moses said something similar to the children of Israel when he challenged them to live according to the Instruction of God. He had placed before them the two outcomes of blessing and curse. The former would be experienced by the repentant and obedient, whereas the latter would be the fate of the wilfully sinful and disobedient.
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…” –Devarim (Deuteronomy) NIV
The blessing is offered first “You will eat the good of the land”. This is a twofold blessing, a promise that if Israel is obedient she will remain in the land and eat of its good crops.
The counter to the blessing gleaned through obedience is the curse that comes as a consequence of disobedience: “You will be eaten by the sword”. This is also a twofold certainty for the disobedient: they will be taken from their land by the sword of their enemies and their very way of life will be consumed, including the crops they had grown for their own consumption.
Thus in obedience to God we eat and are secure but in disobedience to God we are devoid of security and are eaten up.
21 Eiychah How has it come to pass that the Faithful City has become a whore!
She once was full of justice,
righteousness dwelt in her--
but now merachetzim professional murderers!
Eiychah has a sighing quality. It is the opening word of Jeremiah’s Lamentations and here conveys the great mourning in Isaiah’s heart as he begins his lament over Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has been wept over by many of God’s prophets, not the least being Yeshua our King Messiah:
“Yerushalayim (Flood of Peace), Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” –Matthew 23:37
By definition a Harlot is not faithful. The words of the prophet seek to break through the delusion created by the people of Israel with their syncretised worship practices and their pretentious false piety.
A nation is in the depths of darkness when it has gone beyond murdering out of blind rage and has sanitized the mechanisms for the murderous elite by allowing for the hire of professional murderers. This may be considered by the rich and powerful to be a sanitary practice, but it is not a pure one. A sanitary sin is the ultimate sin of regression.
22 Your silver has become dross,
your wine diluted by water.
It is literally true that Jerusalem’s riches had been diminished at this point in her history. It is also spiritually true that those symbols of purity and abundance had been replaced with waste and dilution.
23 Your princes are rebellious
and friends with ganavim professional thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
They don’t defend the orphan,
nor is a widow’s case brought before them.
Rav Victor Buksbazen renders this text well when he translates, “Your leaders are misleaders”.
Israel’s rulers had become rebellious toward God and as a result had made friends of those who do evil. Her disgraceful and unjust behaviour toward the poor is now spelled out, “You love taking bribes and pursue unjust rewards. Not only do you intentionally refuse to defend the orphan in his distress, you also refuse to hear the widow’s pleas for justice.”
24 Therefore says ha-Adon the Lord Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]) Tzva’ot (Host, going to war) the Avir Mighty One of Yisrael (Overcome in God):
“Hoy! I will get relief from My foes
and avenge Myself on My enemies.
The title Ha-Adon is used in order to name Hashem as the Lord over all the lords of Israel, which included wicked men, priests, false gods etc.
We can read the Hebrew text as, “Therefore says The Lord over all lords, Mercy Himself, bringing heavens armies to wage war. The Mighty One of those who overcome in Him. Hoy, listen up, I will take out my foes and avenge My enemies Myself!”
25 Then I will turn My hand on you,
purge away your dross,
and remove all your alloy.
Dross/alloys are removed from metals through smelting in a furnace. Therefore, Israel will go through a period of severe disciplining and great suffering in order to have her dross (sin) removed.
26 I will return your judges to the head,
your counsellors as at the beginning.
Thus you will be called
City of Righteousness, Faithful City.
Following the removal of the sin and moral corruption of the Jewish nation Hashem will return righteous judges to the head of Israel’s justice system. Those who give good counsel in the manner of the former days when Israel had once honoured Hashem, will be with her again just as they were with Moses and the righteous kings of Israel.
Once a harlot and a rebel, now cleansed, Jerusalem will again be known as righteous and faithful.
27 Tziyon (Parched land) will be delivered with justice,
her returning with righteousness.”
Tziyon is a proper noun that is used in many different ways to describe numerous aspects of Israel’s identity and her connection to God. Mount Tziyon is the Temple mount, but Tziyon is also the land and the people, even the people themselves. Therefore, the returning of Tziyon is of great significance. The Mount will be returned into the hands of the Jewish people. Likewise the land. And in order for both these things to happen the Jewish people themselves will have to be returned from any exile resulting from her sin.
28 But there will be a breaking of rebels and sinners together.
Forsaking Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]), they will be consumed.
The former promise of return is for the repentant remnant alone. The wilfully wicked are now warned of what awaits them if they continue in their rebellion against Hashem. They will be broken as a result of their own sin. Forsaking Hashem is an act of the will. It is the intentional and continued walking away from relationship with God. Those who continually reject God will be consumed by their own sin and will suffer the just judgement of Hashem. In a very real sense no one is sent to eternal punishment, to the contrary, the one who enters eternal punishment has chosen it for himself.
29 For they will be ashamed of the eilim sacred oaks
that you’ve desired,
and ashamed because of the gardens
that you have chosen.
The Hebrew Eilim means both oaks or terebinths and idols.
The Hebrew text interchanges plural and singular forms in order to show that these sins are both corporate and individual. The oaks are sacred oaks/idols worshipped by the surrounding nations, a practice that Israel had adopted and syncretized with the worship of Hashem. The gardens are likewise places that are designed to honour false gods.
30 For you will become like an oak with languishing leaves,
like a garden that has no water.
Isaiah makes couplets of the oaks and the gardens. In the former verses the oaks and gardens are objects of worship but in the present verse the Israelite himself is called a languishing oak and a waterless garden. In other words the Israelites have not only worshipped false gods they have also taken on the identities of those gods. In the modern vernacular of the new age movement, they had realised the god within them. This is of course the root of all sin, Idolatry, the desire to usurp HaShem. However, in realizing their own deity they had also been met with the weakness of that same realisation. They may be gods (elohiym), but they were languishing feeble gods without the ability to sustain themselves.
31 And it will come to pass that the strong one will become like a dry strand of flax,
and his work will kindle fire--
both will burn together,
and nothing will put it out.
The “Strong one” chozen, is a reference to one who makes an idol and his “work” is a reference to the idol itself.
This is an illuminating verse. It is the work (idol) of the strong one (the maker of the idols [eilim] who finds his strength in temporary idolatrous things) that will ignite his own destruction. Both the wicked (idol makers) and their works (idols) will burn together.
In conclusion we have a description of a fire that will never cease to burn because “nothing will put it out”. This is not possible in the physical realm, for eventually the fire will burn itself out. Therefore, this is a description, not of the temporary consequence of wicked physical deeds but of the eternal consequences of uncovered wicked spiritual deeds.
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.