Introduction

What is the Book of Isaiah About?

Read this 4-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read Isaiah!

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Historical Context

Isaiah was called to his prophetic ministry “in the year that King Uzziah died” (Isaiah 6:1), around 740 BC. He lived long enough to record the death of Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:38), in 681. However, most of the book can be dated only in very general terms because few specific dates are given.

From Bibles.net: Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Isaiah for your good and to lead you into joy.

The Near East at the Time of Isaiah

c. 740 BC

The prophecies of Isaiah took place during the rise of the Assyrian Empire. Assyria posed a great threat to Israel and Judah as well as the entire Near East.  

—ESV Global Study Bible

“…in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Isaiah preached in the southern kingdom of Judah during the closing decades of the eighth-century BC. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. When Isaiah began his work about 740 BC, Judah was still basking in long-sustained prosperity. But the good times were nearly over, and the people sensed it. They lived in a pivotal moment and in a threatening world. The crisis of their generation was the rising Assyrian empire to the east, and these four kings of Judah proved how mixed the nation’s response was—trust in God complicated by deeper trust in themselves. You can read more about it in 2 Kings 15-20. But the Assyrian threat was the point at which these leaders and their people would decide whether God would save them or whether they had to develop their own strategies of self-salvation. Every generation is tested at some point of felt urgency, and to us today God freely offers himself as our most powerful ally. Whether or not we choose him in the story of our generation, and nothing else ultimately matters. 

—Ray Ortlund

Content taken from Isaiah: God Saves Sinners by Ray Ortlund ©2012. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. 

Isaiah’s prophecy assumes three different historical backgrounds: his own context in the eighth century BC (Isaiah 1–39), Israel’s exile in Babylon in the sixth century (Isaiah 40–55), and after the exiles have returned to their land (Isaiah 56–66). Yet the entirety of Isaiah’s message challenged his own contemporaries and continues to remain relevant to all of God’s people until Jesus returns.

—Drew Hunter

Source: Content taken from Isaiah: A 12-Week Study by Drew Hunter ©2013. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Books
Message Series

Isaiah by Andy Davis

Isaiah is a big book! Thus, Andy Davis has preached quite a few messages on it. You will be nourished by God’s Word through the faithful preaching of this man who deeply loves the Lord and his Word. Consider choosing a passage that especially interests your family and listening to his message on that passage!

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Isaiah Dictionary

As you read through Isaiah, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know! Note that this dictionary was created for the New International Version (NIV) Bible.

A place where sacrifices were made to worship God. An altar could be a pile of dirt or stones, or a raised platform of wood, marble, metal, or other materials. The bronze or brazen altar was used for burnt offerings in the tabernacle’s courtyard. It was a large box, eight feet square and four-and-a-half feet high, made of wood covered with bronze. A much larger altar replaced it when Solomon built the temple. The altar of incense (also called the golden altar) was smaller, covered with gold, and placed just in front of the veil to the Holy of Holies. Every day, both morning and evening, incense was burned here, symbolizing the prayers of the people.

A powerful and aggressive nation, the most powerful Middle Eastern empire from the tenth century BC through most of the seventh century. Nineveh was the capital city. Assyria conquered Israel and took its inhabitants captive.

The capital city and the country that was one of the major political and cultural centers of the ancient world. The city of Babylon was located at the junction of the Euphrates River and major east-west caravan routes. For nearly 1,000 years, until the rise of Assyria in the ninth century BC, Babylon dominated much of the Middle East. Near the end of the seventh century BC, Babylon regained its independence and for nearly 100 years asserted its influence throughout the region and was a constant threat to the kingdom of Judah, finally resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of Judah’s leading citizens. Babylon was captured by the Persians in 539 BC and then continued to decline, until it was destroyed by the Greek army under Alexander the Great.

The worthless husks removed from grain. Farmers in Bible times got rid of chaff by throwing grain in the air on windy days. The light chaff blew away on the wind; the heavier grain fell to the ground. In the Bible, the word chaff often means something bad or worthless.

Heavenly beings described as having multiple wings and both human and animal form. They are presented in Scripture as directly serving God. Carved representations of cherubim were placed on the ark of the covenant, and they were embroidered on the tabernacle’s curtains. Solomon’s Temple contained huge figures of cherubim.

An agreement. In the ancient Near East, sometimes covenants were made between two people or groups of people. Both sides decided what the agreement would be. However, in the Bible, the word usually refers to agreements between God and people, when God decides what will be done and the people agree to live by the covenant. The old covenant of law set standards of behavior in order to please God. The new covenant of grace presents God’s forgiveness based on faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Pure; set apart; belonging to God. God is holy. He is perfect and without sin. Jesus is holy too. He is without sin and dedicated to doing what God wants. Because Jesus died to take the punishment for sin and then rose again, people who believe in him have the power to be holy too. God helps them to become more and more pure and loving, like Jesus.

A statue or other image of a god that is made by people and then worshiped as if it had the power of God. Idols are often made of wood, stone, or metal. Sometimes the Bible calls anything that takes the place of God in a person’s life an idol. God tells us not to worship idols but, rather, to worship only him.

The most important city of Bible times. Jerusalem was the capital of the united kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. The temple was built in Jerusalem, so many people traveled to the city to worship God. In 587 BC, Jerusalem was captured and mostly destroyed by Babylonian armies. The city was rebuilt when the Jews returned after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Jesus taught in the city of Jerusalem, was crucified outside the city wall, was buried near the city, and then rose again. The first Christian church began in Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit came to the believers there.

That which is right and fair. Most of the prophets in the Bible emphasized that God is just and that he wants his people to act justly. Many of the prophets’ warnings were given because the leaders and people were guilty of injustice (such as cheating others, especially the poor).

To buy back. In Bible times, a person could buy a slave and then set the slave free. The slave had been redeemed by the person who had paid the price and then given the slave freedom. The New Testament tells us that by dying, Jesus paid the price to buy us back and set us free from our slavery to sin. See also ransom.

A person who buys back. The term is used in the Old Testament to refer to God and to the Messiah who was promised to come.

A payment that is deserved. The punishment that comes to a person because he or she has broken God’s law is called retribution.

Thinking and doing what is correct (or right) and holy. God is righteous because he does only what is perfect and holy. A person who has accepted Jesus as Savior is looked at by God as being free from the guilt of sin, so God sees that person as being righteous. People who are members of God’s family show their love for him by doing what is correct and holy, living in righteous ways.

(1) To be rescued (or delivered) from evil. (2) To be kept from danger or death. In the New Testament, salvation usually means to be rescued from the guilt and power of sin. By his death and resurrection, Jesus brings salvation to people who believe in him.

One who saves. The Old Testament almost always speaks of God as the Savior of his people. Sometimes God sent someone to help his people and that person was called a savior. In the New Testament, Savior refers to Jesus. He died and rose again to rescue, or save, us from our sins.

Heavenly beings mentioned only in Isaiah’s vision of God (see Isaiah 6). Seraphim are similar to, or possibly the same as, the cherubim mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.

Having authority and power over everything. God is sovereign.

The permanent place in Jerusalem where the Jews worshiped God. The first temple was built by King Solomon and the people by following the instructions God had given Solomon’s father, King David. The temple was a very beautiful place. It was destroyed and rebuilt twice. In AD 64, the temple was destroyed again but was not rebuilt.

A long, loud cry to show sorrow.

Misery, sorrow, or great suffering.

(1) One of the hills on which the city of Jerusalem was built (Mount Zion). (2) The entire city of Jerusalem. (3) Another name for the nation of Israel. (4) Another name for heaven.

Dictionary Source

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions

We have found answers to some tough questions that we anticipate may arise as you read this book of the Bible. We know we can’t answer every question you will have; therefore, we have written this article, so you know how to find answers for your kids: How Do I Answer Tough Questions About the Bible?

Insights

The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of Isaiah.

The Hebrew meaning of Isaiah’s name summarizes his message: The Lord saves. The prophecy of Isaiah alternates between promises of judgment and restoration, continually reminding us of the magnitude of humanity’s sin, the judgment that all deserve, and the God who displays his glory by saving sinners. 

The message is not for Israel and Judah alone, but for the whole world. Isaiah rebukes all nations for their unfaithfulness to God, yet announces a surprising plan of grace and glory for any sinner who comes to him in faith. As we are surprised by grace time and again throughout the book, a glorious picture of God’s cosmic renewal develops. Central to this salvation is the sending of a Messiah, a servant-king who will suffer for his people and be exalted in victory.

—Drew Hunter

Source: Content taken from The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made by Mark Dever ©2006. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Isaiah is a vision of two places to bank our trust, two ways of salvation—one that saves and one that doesn’t—two futures. [It’s] the Bible in a nutshell.  

—Trent Hunter  

Source: Trent Hunter, quoted from his message, “The God of Unapproachable Holiness,” from the series, Isaiah: A Vision of Two Cities on Isaiah 1-12, preached at Heritage Bible Church on November 25, 2018. 

Christians in the world today hold the death and resurrection of Jesus as their only hope for salvation from sin and judgment and for their future hope of eternal life. The prophets of the Old Testament also grounded their hopes for redemption on Jesus, whom they knew as the promised Messiah. While believers today look back through faith to the salvation achieved by Christ, the Old Testament prophets looked forward through faith to the fulfillment of God’s promised salvation. Perhaps no prophet looked forward with such detail and such beauty as Isaiah.

—John MacArthur

Source: MacArthur, John. Isaiah: The Promise of the Messiah. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2020.

As we read through the book of Isaiah, we see that God is utterly unique. There is no one like him. No one else has the moral purity of God. No one else is as righteous as God. And yet no one else is as loving as God. Indeed, one of the most striking things about the book of Isaiah is the tenacity of God’s love for his unfaithful people. Again and again they turn from him and spurn him. They trust in other things. And again and again God tenaciously pursues them. 

—Mark Dever

Source: Content taken from The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made by Mark Dever ©2006. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Isaiah said, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord” (Isaiah 6:1 ESV). There was still a King in Judah. There was still a King who is “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1 ESV). There was still a King greater than all the kings of all these kingdoms. There is a King who is not president, who is seated on his throne, who is not elected but has always been King. His name is Yahweh. He is our God. He’s our glorious God.  

—Christian Lwanda 

Source: “The Book of Isaiah – Pst. Christian Lwanda – 24/07/2016” YouTube video. Posted by “Nairobi Chapel” July 28, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19n4BKaky1w.

Isaiah did not fail in his ministry. He laid bare the sins of his people and called them to repent and turn to God or face punishment (see Isaiah 1; 2:6–3). “Come back to God,” he cried. But his chief theme was the coming One: Jesus. He saw Christ’s near first coming and he saw Christ’s faraway Second Coming. In all, he saw Christ. A glorious future is in store for Judah when Christ comes again. Jerusalem is to be the capital of the coming kingdom (see Isaiah 2:1-5; 4). 

When the German astronomer Johannes Kepler failed to explain the motion of heavenly bodies by assigning each an orbit that was a circle, he realized that if each planet had an orbit that was an ellipse with two foci, the motion of the planets could be explained. So, when in our reverent study of God’s Word, we note the two points of Christ on the cross and Christ on the throne, the Word shines clear and we begin to see what the prophet saw: the world’s Redeemer, coming first in humiliation and then again in power and great glory.  

—Henrietta Mears 

Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The prophet Isaiah says all of us are like wandering sheep. We’ve all gone astray. Every one of us has followed our own sinful path and the Lord gathered all the iniquity of all of us and laid it on him. This is the amazing reality that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is the sinless substitute for our sins. He offered himself, the sinless One, for the sinful one. Every person has sinned, and for everyone who puts trust in Jesus Christ, that sin is paid for. This is at the heart of the Christian gospel, Jesus the sinless one, dying as a substitute for sinners… God, the judge, determining what the punishment must be, and executing it on his own Son. Then when we put our trust in him, with his death applied to us, our sins are forever covered, and the righteousness of Christ is given to us. It is in this great truth of the Christian faith which we rejoice supremely. This rescues us from eternal judgment and gives us eternal peace with God.

—John MacArthur

Source: Quote retrieved here from Grace Quotes at gracequotes.org.

But the most important thing about Isaiah is his name. His Hebrew name means “The Lord saves.”  This man’s very identity announces grace from beyond ourselves. We don’t like that. We want to retain control, save face, set our own terms, pay our own way. Every day we treat God as incidental to what really matters to us, and we live by our own strategies of self-salvation. We don’t think of our choices that way, but Isaiah can see that our lives are infested with fraudulent idols. Any hope that isn’t from God is an idol of our own making… the question on which our lives turn, moment by moment, is whether we are banking on God’s promises of salvation or on the empty promises of the false salvations pressing in upon us all around. If we are not letting God save us, we are exposing ourselves to forces of evil, more than we know. But as the truth of “The Lord saves” breaks upon us with prophetic clarity, it becomes a powerful resource for living.

—Ray Ortlund

Source: Content taken from Isaiah: God Saves Sinners by Ray Ortlund ©2012. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Isaiah Playlist

Discover music inspired by the message and content of the book of Isaiah.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
by Northway Collective | Folk
Ways in the Wasteland
by NewSpring Worship | Contemporary
Whom Shall I Fear?
by Chris Tomlin | Contemporary
Everlasting God
by Lincoln Brewster | Contemporary
Isaiah Song
by Maverick City Music feat. Chandler Moore | Gospel
By His Wounds
by Mac Powell, Steven Curtis Chapman, Brian Littrell, Mark Hall | Acoustic
My Kindness Shall Not Depart from Thee
by Dallyn Vail Bayles | 70s 80s 90s
The Sower’s Song
by Andrew Peterson | Folk
With His Wounds We Are Healed
by The Corner Room | Album
So Long, Moses
by Andrew Peterson | Contemporary
Then They Will Know
by Michael Card | 70s 80s 90s
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