Isaiah series: Principles of Isaiah’s prophecy (Part 1)

“ISAIAH” SERIES INTRODUCTION. One of the fruits of my conversion to Christ, now more than thirty years ago, was an almost immediate love for His Word. As I became more familiar with the Bible, even as a young Christian, I was fascinated by the power and beauty and mystery of the prophecies of Isaiah, and that fascination has only increased over time. As a result of my love for the book of Isaiah, I have decided to begin making occasional but regular posts about passages from the book, trying to capture the beauty of the writing while also attempting to interpret the complexity of the prophecies.

PRINCIPLES OF PROPHECY. Before writing in detail about particular passages from the book of Isaiah, I wanted to take a few minutes to examine Isaiah’s writing in general. Isaiah covers a broad range of themes but knowing some basic principles about how Isaiah wrote should be helpful in grasping his ideas and in benefiting from his prophecy. This is the first of two posts on these principles.

HOLY SPIRIT INSPIRED PROPHECY
First, Isaiah did not write his prophecy from his own brilliance as a result of his own human insight. Isaiah, like all biblical writers, wrote what he did because he was “moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” In his second epistle, Peter writes, “20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Isaiah was inspired by the Holy Spirit and so his writings are God-breathed. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes, “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (ESV). Therefore, when we read from the book of Isaiah, we are reading the very words of the living God. This explains how Isaiah could pen for us with astonishing accuracy prophecies about events that would take place hundreds and even thousands of years after he wrote them.


CONSISTENCY OF A GIVEN THEME THROUGHOUT ISAIAH
Second, Isaiah’s prophecy about each specific theme is consistent throughout his prophecy, regardless of when in his prophecy he writes about that theme, and his overall concept of history is consistent throughout his prophecy. This is a complex idea, so I will explain below with some examples.
A frequent theme of Isaiah’s writing is the topic of the last day, also known as “that day” or as “the day of the LORD.” For example, in Isaiah 24, the prophet declares that “the LORD lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants” (24:1). The reader would identify this as a prophecy about the theme of the last day when the LORD returns to destroy the earth and render recompense to the unrighteous. But it should be noted that what Isaiah writes in chapter 24 is consistent with what the prophet writes in other passages about this theme of the last day. By consistent, I do not mean they are identical, but that they are complementary. They are obviously about the same event (in this case, the last day) and they share the same features. Passages about the same theme “fit together.”
Another of Isaiah’s prominent themes is prophecy about Jesus’ first advent, most notably in the passages on “the suffering Servant.” The best known of these is in Isaiah 53, where we see the suffering of the Servant with dazzling clarity, but there are numerous other passages on the theme of Jesus’ first advent (His birth, His earthly ministry, and His passion, etc.) and these prophecies are consistent with one another. They “fit together” and are obviously about the same person. The fact that there is consistency within a theme also makes it easier for the reader to identify the theme. That is, the reader will have the experience of thinking, “Wait a minute. This sounds a lot like what I read elsewhere in Isaiah.”


WORLD HISTORY IS LINEAR WITH A DEFINITE END
But also, Isaiah’s view of world history is consistent throughout his prophecy and is in agreement with the rest of the Bible. That is, Isaiah sees history as linear, with a clear beginning and a definite end. Isaiah’s worldview has the LORD as the ruler of the universe He created. The LORD is in sovereign control of all events, and He directs history according to His perfect plan. Isaiah’s world is a world where the LORD is Holy, Holy, Holy (6:3) and man is ruined (6:5). The LORD is merciful, and man is in rebellion against the God who created him. Man is, therefore, subject to God’s judgment. But Isaiah also envisions the LORD sending a suffering Servant (Isaiah 53; etc.), the Messiah, who will bear their iniquities (53:11). This One will be crushed for our iniquities (53:5) and on Him the LORD will lay the iniquities of us all (53:6). Remarkably, by His scourging, we are healed (53:5).
Additionally, Isaiah’s prophecy tells of a God who is merciful to rebellious mankind. The LORD calls us to come to Him for salvation (Isaiah 55:1-3). The LORD is Redeemer, Savior, the Holy One of Israel, your Husband is your Maker, Creator, the LORD of hosts. For Isaiah, the LORD is the patient Holy One of Israel, calling rebels to repentance and inviting sinners to draw near to their God. In Isaiah’s worldview, there is redemption, forgiveness, and atonement.
Finally, a linear view of history means that there is coming a last day. Isaiah’s prophecy is full of warnings to the unrighteous, calling them to repentance and telling them of the disaster that awaits all who will not forsake their wicked ways. And these warnings are not to no purpose, for as surely as there was a beginning, there will certainly be an end. Isaiah writes about Jesus’ first advent, but he also writes about His Second Coming. There will be a last day, “that day,” when the LORD’s patience will end and will be replaced with His wrath poured out on the unrighteous. Isaiah writes of the suffering Servant coming back as the crowned and conquering King. Isaiah knows that history will end, and that end will be terrifying for those who have not rejoiced in the LORD. But for those who have known the LORD and who have been wrapped with the robe of righteousness (61:10), the last day is a day of rejoicing as they will finally and forever be redeemed by the LORD.
In summary, Isaiah is consistent in the way he presents each of his themes throughout his prophecy and his view that history is being directed to a definite end “on that day” is consistent with the clear teaching of the rest of Scripture.

In the next post, we will look at a third principle for understanding Isaiah, that of beginning our interpretation by carefully identifying the theme of the passage.

SDG                 rmb                 4/25/2022                   #520