Character Sketch: Isaiah


Character Sketch: Isaiah

Isaiah, the prophet borne this name as Yesha’yahu, signifies “the salvation of Jehovah”. His name itself magnifies the ample scope of his forthtelling and foretelling messages. However, this name was very common one in his time. Some other biblical characters also had borne this name. David’s head singer had the same name (1 Chronicles 25:3, 15); a Levite with the same name is also recorded in the book of Chronicles 26:25; a companion of Ezra who returned from exile to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:7), and a Benjamite in Nehemiah (11:7)[1].

Isaiah 1:1 tells us that he was the son of Amoz. The name seems very confounding to be distinguished from the prophet Amos. We have no further information about him. The Jewish traditional maintains that Isaiah might have royal bloodline, as he had regular access to the kings of Judah.[2] Nevertheless, the access to the court can hardly validate the claim that Isaiah belonged to royal lineage, since prophet Nathan had also appeared to the royal court (2 Samuel 7:2-17; 12:1-15; 1 Kings 1:22-27). He was a scribe and official historiographer of the king (2 Chronicles 26:22).

Isaiah was married to a prophetess and had two sons: Shear Jashub, whose name means, “a remnant will return” and the second one was Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, whose name means, “Swift is the plunder, and speedy is the prey” (Kroeze). These names reflect the forthtelling message of Isaiah. In the case of his wife, Isaiah does not mention her name. And it is speculated that she might have been addressed as prophetess simply being married to the prophet, though she had not been bestowed any prophetic gift.[3]

Jewish tradition asserts that she was the same “virgin” (7:14; NRSV “young woman”) Isaiah referred to King Ahaz for Immanuel sign.[4] According to Rabbinic tradition, he defied the abominable idolatrous acts and ordinances of King Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, so was he seized and sawed apart.[5] The author of Hebrews acknowledges Isaiah’s martyrdom (11:37 NIV). He died an indescribable, horrific, and crueler death of martyr pertaining to the death of a wild beast.

“In the year King Uzziah died,” Isaiah receives the solemn call from the Sovereign God (6:1-8). It is assumed, in light of the fact that Uzziah was a leper and living in tent at that time, Isaiah’s prophetic office commences late in the monarch’s reign.[6] According to William S. Lasor, David A. Hubbard, and Fredric W. Bush, this momentous call is dated 740 B.C and instituted as a re-commissioning of Isaiah to proclaim the looming judgment.[7]

God gives Isaiah the glorious vision of his majesty, transcendence, and holiness (6:1-3).[8] His encounter with God – a physical manifestation of the Holy One – brings him to the point where he had to condemn himself for his sinfulness – “Woe to me” (6:5). It is not the reoccurring pattern of oracle of doom in any of the prophets in the Bible. He is the only prophet who condemns himself. Seraphs cleanse him from his all uncleanness by a live coal from alter and appoint his ministry (6:8-13).

He is bold and earnest in his oracles. He lives under five kings namely Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and most likely Manasseh. Later four kings overlap his prophetic ministry. Spence and Exell, the Bible Commentators, write that Hezekiah was the only religious and God-fearing king. Further, Isaiah never holds back in fear to address the issues:

“Yet he maintains towards all of them an uncompromising attitude of firmness with respect to all that bears upon religion. He conceals nothing, keeps nothing back, out of a desire for court favour. “Is it a small thing for you to weary them?” he says to one king; “but must you weary my God also?” (7:13). “Set thine house in order,” he says to another; “for thou shalt die, and not live” (38:1).[9]

He condemns social injustice, religious hypocrisy, oppression, sensuality, and pride of the kings and Israelites.

Isaiah is very remarkable for many reasons in the biblical canon. The prophet himself is also known as the “Prince of the Prophets” because of its account of length, coverage of various subject matters, and values it holds.

“Its influence is clear in its contribution to the Qumran community whose Dead Sea Scrolls have preserved at least fifteen manuscripts or fragments thereof and especially in its impact on the New Testament which contains more than 400 quotations and echoes of Isaiah’s language.”[10]

The New Testament writers quoted at least 50 times in various occasions. The frequently quoted book over times too implies the importance, influence, and the overall functionality of the prophet’s literature in the salvation history.

It is very noteworthy that even Jesus quotes from Isaiah (61:1-2) on the commencement of his public ministry in Nazareth to show that the prophecy is being fulfilled (Luke 4:18-19 NIV). Matthew picks up the “virgin birth” or “Immanuel” passage right out of Isaiah 7:14 in his gospel (Matthew 1:23).

Isaiah has the comprehensive coverage of God’s nature as Sovereign Judge and Redeemer. He provides more insights into the nature of God than any other prophetic literatures[11]. Isaiah advocates for the weak, poor, oppressed, and sick. Moreover, he is so much fascinated by the holiness of God that binds him till his last breath.

In spite of spiritual and geo-political turmoil, he asks people to put their hope in Yahweh and trust in Him alone. Isaiah himself lives his life that reflects his own words. He calls people for repentance in higher degree before God’s unmitigated wrath pours upon his people (2:18). He personally goes through the adversities, rejection, and humiliation but never constrains his steps from approaching the kings and authorities and denounces their principalities and injustice. He grasps the “fear of the Lord” and “Holy, holy, holy- the incomparable holiness” in his heart and distinguishes the superiority of the Holy One of Israel.  Besides, he had the powerful message of both judgment and hope.

We can draw some personal, moral, spiritual, and theological lessons from his preaching throughout the book. Once his sin is forgiven, he desires to share God’s grace and his forgiveness to others too. Yet he suffers from his own people, he tends his flock like a good shepherd.  And there is no such barrier for Isaiah to challenge state authority regarding sin. In addition, Isaiah views God as the Superlative – incomparably holy, perfect, just, and loving (8:13).

The doctrine of Atonement of Messiah is the significant one Isaiah records in his account.[12] Thus, the saving grace of God in the midst of severe judgment is the most considerable theological moral in this prophetic literature. However, hope outweighs the judgment, because no man deserves his forgiveness. Yet, God forgives and restore us.

Without overstating the nobility of the text of Isaiah, we understand that knowing God reveals the gap between God and us. It brings us beneath the Cross where we become conscious how sinful and unholy we are. Therefore, we ought to address sin by its name, as Isaiah did in his time.

Neither earthly authority nor his sphere of comfort could stop him from proclaiming the Word of God. He put his life at stake in order to correct the path of his king and people. He knew that God alone is the Sovereign ruler of the history. His dominion could not be averted nor could one escape from his burdened yoke. In the same way, we as commissioned people to preach the gospel should not withhold our responsibility from reaching out to people.

We have a right to ask ourselves why our high authorities, leaders, and people are not a part of the covenant blessings of Sovereign God. The reason is: we restrain, because we do not want to offend the rules of secular humanism. Is the law of the world greater than the commandment of God? Certainly not. Isaiah has demonstrated his part in the drama of salvation history to teach us how we should act and respond in this perverted and crooked generation so that they may see the Lamb slain for their sins.

The cause and effect of exponential growth of apostasy in Western Christianity is an example of what we so called religious tolerance. Are we not appointed to be his messenger? Of course, we are! Then, we should have been sharing the forgiveness of God with others too. Apostle Paul assures us that no death can separate us from God. Next, neither hardship nor affliction and persecution can stand against the assigned task of God (Romans 8:31-39).

Therefore, we reason out that we proclaim his triumphant message of his holiness, love, and justice without compromising to the world to include others in his Kingdom.

Bibliography

Beyer E. Bryan, Encountering the Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academy, 2007), 24.

http://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies/noncanon/summaries/mart_isaiah.htm

Lasor, William S., David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush. Old Testament Survey. 2nd ed. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Company, 1982.

Spence, H. D., and Joseph S. Exell, eds. The Pulpit Commentary. Vol. II. Chicago: Wilcox & Follett Co.Publishers.

The Bible Handbook, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), 122.

Young, Edward J. The Book of Isaiah. Vol. III. Ser. 17. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Company, 1972.


[1] H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, (Chicago: Wilcox and Follett Co.), Vol. I, i.

 

[2] Beyer, Encountering the Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academy, 2007), 24.

[3] H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, (Chicago: Wilcox and Follett Co.), Vol. I, i.

[4] William S. Lasor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush, The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament: Old Testament Survey, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996), 2 Ed., 277.

[5] http://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies/noncanon/summaries/mart_isaiah.htm

[6] H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, (Chicago: Wilcox and Follett Co.), Vol. I, ii.

[7] William S. Lasor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush, The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament: Old Testament Survey, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996), 2 Ed., 278.

[8] Majesty (“seated on throne”), transcendence (“high and exalted,” “the train of his robe filled the temple,” “the temple was filled with smoke”, and holiness (“Holy, holy, holy”).

[9] H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, (Chicago: Wilcox and Follett Co.), Vol. I, iv.

[10] William S. Lasor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush, The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament: Old Testament Survey, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996), 2 Ed., 276.

[11] The Bible Handbook, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), 122.

[12] The Bible Handbook, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), 122.

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