1. Author and Time of Writing
According to chapter 1:1 the Prophet Isaiah (Meaning, Jehovah is Salvation) was the son of the Amoz, who according to an old Jewish tradition was the brother of King Amaziah. In any case Isaiah had a fairly free entry to the King's court in Jerusalem (Is. 7:3; 38:1; 39:3). Isaiah was married and had two sons by the names of Shear-jashub (Hebr. "A remnant shall return", Is. 7:3) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Hebr. "Swift for spoil, hasty for prey", Is. 8:3).
Isaiah's prophetic service covered the reigns of the kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Uzziah's autocracy started around the year 767 BC and Hezekiah died around 697 BC. The prophet's service fell into this time. According to Jewish tradition Isaiah shall have been persecuted by the impious king Manasseh (son of king Hezekiah) and sawn asunder in a hollow trunk (compare with Heb. 11:37).
It was during the Middle Age that the presumption was first made which said that not all 66 chapters of the book originated from Isaiah himself. Towards the end of the 18th century, during the time of the Enlightenment, theological scientists and sceptics tried to prove more heavily that Isaiah could impossibly have written the whole book himself. It all started with ascribing chapters 40 to 66 to a writer of the 6th century BC (Deutero-Isaiah). During the 19th and 20th century the dismemberment of the book continued even further; the first 39 chapters were also ascribed to different authors and chapters 55 to 66 even to a so-called Trito-Isaiah who shall have been living around the turning from the 5th to the 6th century. The main reasons for this criticism are the divers subjects and the pretended unequal style of the divers paragraphs and mainly because of the apparition of King Cyrus' name around 200 years before his time (Is. 44:28; 45:1).
It would be too much for the given scope to go into details of the attacks of Bible-criticism. We would only like to state that thematic and stylistic differences are to be found in the works of nearly every secular author without anyone doubting their authorship. The argument that the style of the various paragraphs is too different is therefore little sound. For the similarities stand out at least as much, for example the frequent mentioning of God as "the Holy One of Israel" (compare Peculiarities).
The mentioning of Cyrus' name long before his time is one out of hundreds of examples in the Word of God who proof that God is declaring the end from the beginning (Is. 46:10). It is quite a characteristic of the prophet that he also receives messages concerning future things by the Spirit of God. The man of God out of Judah mentioned the name of king Josiah in front of king Jeroboam around 300 years before he ever lived (1 Kings 13:2). Isaiah has spoken many a prophecy not only concerning Cyrus but also regarding the Messiah, some of them being fulfilled already, some yet waiting to be fulfilled. The Jewish author Flavius Josephus writes (Jewish Antiquities XI 1.1-2) that the Persian king Cyrus read Isaiah's utterances concerning him with astonishment and thereafter gave the command for the return of the Jews (Ezra 1:1-4).
The book of Isaiah is mentioned around 60 times in the NT, which is more than all other prophets together. 28 references only originate from the chapters 40 to 66 whereby Isaiah's name is mentioned explicitly 11 times (Math. 3:3; 8:17; 12:17; Luke 3:4; 4:17; John 1:23; 12:38; Acts 8:28-33; Rom. 10:16. 20-21). The most remarkable reference in this connection is John 12:38-41. Isaiah chap. 53 and chap. 6 are referred to there whereby Isaiah's name is mentioned three times! The Word of God herewith confirms the unity of the book itself.
Further clear testimonies to the unity of Isaiah are the scrolls found at the Dead Sea. In 1947 an approximately 7ms long leather-scroll with the whole text of the book Isaiah dating from the 2nd century BC was found in Qumran among others. This is the oldest completely maintained copy of a book of the OT. Such a scroll is mentioned in Luke 4:17-20 (compare Acts 8:28-35).
Isaiah lived and worked in a difficult time. Though King Uzziah (Azariah) of Judah had a good start he later lifted up his heart against Jehovah. Uzziah's son Jotham was a god-fearing king to a certain measure but his son Ahaz was a worshipper of idols. Hezekiah however brought about a great revival of the people.
During this time enemies distressed the kingdom of Judah: Edom, Syria, Israel and the Philistines. The ungodly kings of the northern kingdom of Israel had allied himself with Syria and continued to attack Judah (2 Kings 15:37; 16:5-6; 2 Chron. 28:5-6). Instead of putting their trust in Jehovah the kings of Judah looked for refuge with Assyria (2 Kings 16:7; 2 Chron. 28:16) but never got real help (2 Chron. 28:20; 32:1). Isaiah experienced how the Northern Kingdom was allied with Egypt against Assyria and finally was defeated all the same and brought into Assyrian captivity in 722/21 BC (2 Kings 17). When Judah under king Hezekiah tried to get rid of the Assyrian supremacy Jehovah helped them (2 Kings 18:7; 2 Chron. 32). But shortly after that Isaiah had to judge the friendly relation with the other great power, Babylon, and had to announce the Babylonian captivity of Judah which was going to occur around 100 years later (2 Kings 18:7; 20:12-19).
2. Purpose of Writing
Isaiah is the first of all prophetic books in the modern editions as well as in the Hebrew Bible where he is the first of the "later prophets". Although Isaiah was not the first prophet his prophecies form the longest and most extensive prophetic book of Holy Scripture. It is Isaiah who writes in the most detailed manner of the promised Messiah (only the Psalms are of an even more messianic character) and is therefore also called "the evangelist among the prophets". This is why he duly comes in the first place among the so-called four Major Prophets.
The book of Isaiah consists of two large parts (chap. 1 - 35 and 40 - 66), which are separated by a historical part (chap. 36 - 39). The first main part contains the outer and the second the inner history of the people of God.
The first part (chap. 1 - 35) contains mainly prophecies about the last times and God's ways with Judah, Israel (chap. 1 - 12) and the nations to which they stand in relation to (chap. 13 - 27). After a six - fold cry of "woe" follows the description of the Millennium (chap. 28 - 35).
Between the first and second main part we find the historical part on the life of king Hezekiah (chap. 36 - 39). There we find the description of the Assyrian's attack against Judah and their defeat as well as Hezekiah's healing of a sickness. Although historical these chapters in their context stress the prophecies about Israel's enemies and the salvation of the remnant.
The second main part (chap. 40 - 66) deals with the relation of God's people to the Messiah (Christ) and ends with the description of Christ's reign in the Millennium as well. In chap. 40 - 48 we find the salvation out of Babylon and the condemnation of idols and in chap. 49 - 57 the sufferings and glory of the servant of Jehovah. The chapters 58 - 66 contain a summary of thoughts and ways of God with His earthly people Israel.
Throughout the book style and language of Isaiah are very expressive. With the exception of a few paragraphs (mainly in chap. 36 - 39) the book is written in the verse-form of Hebrew poetry (compare with remarks in Psalms, Peculiarities: Hebrew Poetry).
a) The "Holy One of Israel"
Among the different names of God in Isaiah the "Holy One of Israel" has a special place. This name appears 28 times (Is. 1:4; 5:19.24; 10:17: His Holy One; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19.23: the Holy One of Jacob; 30:11.12.15; 31:1; 37:23; 41:14.16.20; 43:3.14.15; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5; 60:9.14). This name is elsewhere only to be found in 2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Jer. 50:29; 51:5 and Ez. 39:7 (Holy One of Israel).
It is remarkable that this name of God confirms the unity of the book of Isaiah: it appears in both main parts (chap. 1 - 39 and 40 - 66) 14 times each. A special emphasis is found in Isaiah using this name in his word to king Hezekiah in 2 Kings 19:22!
The name "Holy One of Israel" implies that the God of Israel is completely separated from all evil for He is of purer eyes than to behold evil. This is also what the seraphim express who exclaim in front of His throne: "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts" (compare Rev. 4:8).
b) The Salvation
A further key word of the book of Isaiah is the word "salvation" or "deliverance" (Hebr. jeschu'a or jescha or teschu'a, wherefrom the name Je(ho)schua, Joshua = Greek: Jesus, is derived). The word is found in Is. 12:2,3 (Wells of salvation); 17:10 (God of thy salvation); 25:9 (Joy in his salvation); 26:1 (Salvation for walls and bulwarks); 26:18; 33:2.6; 45:8.17 (Everlasting salvation): 46:13; 49:6.8 (Day of salvation); 51:5.6.8; 52:7 (Publisher of salvation); 52:10: 56:1; 59:11.17 (Helmet of salvation); 60:18; 61:10 (Garments of salvation); 62:1.11.
Although the prophet mostly saw the blessings of the Millennium in this salvation many of his expressions in the NT are applied to the everlasting salvation in the present time of grace (compare Acts 13:47; Rom. 10:15; 2 Cor. 6:2; Eph. 6:17). Surely the frequent mentions of the word salvation have helped to give Isaiah the name of "evangelist among the prophets".
c) Messianic Prophecies
Besides the book of Psalms there is none other in the OT containing so many prophecies concerning the Lord Jesus. It is as if the prophet had had Christ constantly before his eyes (compare Is. 6 and John 12:38-41). The most important paragraphs are:
Besides these references there are many more in this book speaking of the Messiah, the redeemer Jesus Christ.
4. Overview of Contents
I. Isaiah 1 - 35: First Main Part: Outward History of Israel
3. Chapter 28 - 35 Six fold "Woe"
II. Isaiah 36 - 39: Historical Insertion: Hezekiah and Isaiah
III. Isaiah 40 - 66: Second Main Part: The Inner History of Israel