In my Introduction to The Prophets, I explained that people in the Bible who foretold upcoming events were generally divided into Former and Latter Prophets. Within the Latter are two groups: “Major” Prophets and “Minor” Prophets. In this post on lessons from The MANual, my NIV Bible for Men, we learn about the first Major Prophet: Isaiah. I will cover another Major Prophet, Jeremiah, along with his second book called Lamentations in another post. I’ll then provide lessons from the remaining Major Prophets: Ezekiel, and Daniel, followed by posts about the Minor Prophets.
Major Means Longer
We call the books of the Major Prophets, Isaiah through Daniel, “major” since their books are the longest in length and discuss a variety of topics. The books of the Minor Prophets, Hosea through Malachi, are relatively shorter and their content is more narrowly focused. These naming conventions don’t mean the Minor Prophets were any less inspired or less important. It is simply that God chose to reveal more to the Major Prophets than He did to the Minor Prophets.
Throughout the History Books of the Old Testament, there were others who spoke prophecies (like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and David) but the “Latter Prophets” are each separate books. Also, the Latter books do not appear in chronological order; instead, are in order of size. With 17 books in the Protestant Bible (18 if you read a Catholic or Orthodox Bible that contains a book from a man named Barach), I’ll need to break up the major and minor prophets into a few groupings.
Let’s get started with Isaiah, considered one of the greatest prophets of all time.
The Prophetic Book from Isaiah
The earliest manuscripts of Isaiah are found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (175 B.C.). The book’s 66 chapters of prophecies are sharply divided into two portions. The tone and content with the first 39 chapters contain a scathing message of dread and potential doom, a judgment of sin, and a call for repentance. The remaining 21 chapters are full of hope and joy of the coming Messiah King. The main theme of the book of Isaiah is the judgment of God’s people, followed by their ultimate salvation.
Words of Judgement
Chapters 1–39 deal primarily with the sins of Judah while the city of Jerusalem was still standing. The Assyrians threatened invasion of the southern kingdom. The southern nation had turned its back on God and alienated itself from Him. They had offered meaningless sacrifices in God’s temple at Jerusalem and committed injustices throughout the nation.
God gave Isaiah the gift of seeing into the future and showed him what would eventually happen to Jerusalem. Chapter 2 describes a wonderful future of peace when instruments of war are turned into instruments of farming, and the people will obey God’s laws and obey Him.
But during the reign of evil kings, idol worship was prevalent in both Israel and Judah. The warning against Judah and Jerusalem (chapter 3) is followed by a message of restoration (chapter 4). There’s a song about the Lord’s Vineyard that God’s chosen nation was to “bear fruit” – to carry out His work and uphold justice in chapter 5.
Men of God: Isaiah
Isaiah’s name means “YHWH (the LORD) is salvation.” He was the son of Amoz and a prophet during the time when the original nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Isaiah prophesied from 739–681 B.C. through the reigns of four kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1).
In the year King Uzziah died, Isaiah had a vision (6:1-8) that permanently affected his character. His vision was of The Lord seated on a high throne, with a robe that filled the Temple. Six seraphs, each with six wings, were calling, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” The seraphs flew down and grabbed live coals from the altar. They touched the hot coals to Isaiah’s lips to symbolize that his guilt was taken away and sin was atoned (paid). The Lord then asked, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah replied “Here I am. Send me.” to prophesy to the people about God.
- Has God ever spoken to you that clearly as he did to Isaiah?
- How can you know what God’s purpose is for your life?
- What steps can you take to prepare to use your spiritual gifts?
Isaiah was married to an unnamed “prophetess” (Isaiah 8:3), which also means she may have held a prophetic office. They had two sons whose names have prophetic meanings: Shear-Jashub (7:3, meaning “a remnant shall return”) that refers to the theme of Isaiah’s ministry, and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (8:1-4), meaning “quick to plunder, swift to spoil” about the fate of Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel.)
Some say the last 27 chapters were written somewhat later since the Babylonian captivity existed long after Isaiah was martyred. Jewish tradition says that the prophet died by being sawn in two under the orders of Manasseh, son of King Hezekiah around 680 B.C.
In chapter 7, the northern kingdom attacks Ahaz, King of Judah. The LORD dispatches Isaiah, and his son, Shear-jashub to encourage the evil king, to ask The LORD for a prophetic message (7:10-13). When Ahaz refuses, the LORD provides His own sign—the virgin will conceive and bear a son (7:14-16) but the Assyrian invasion is coming.
Isaiah 9:6-7 tells us that the Messiah would “rule on the throne of David and over his kingdom” and be from the root of Jesse (11:1-2, 10). These are promises of God proven by Christ’s birth in the New Testament.
Chapters 13-23 are a section with messages against the pagan nations. Isaiah’s prophecy was to tell them not to rely on other nations but rely on God alone. Isaiah let them know that their greatest enemies would receive the judgment they deserved from God.
Chapters 24-27 are often called “Isaiah’s Apocalypse.” They describe the last days when God will judge the whole world by destroying Leviathan (Satan) to finally remove evil. Chapters 28-35 form a section of warning with 6 woes pronounced. The first woe is issued to Ephraim—the northern kingdom of Israel l (28:1). The second woe is issued to Ariel—the southern kingdom of Judah (29:1). The others are to the forces of darkness, the rebellious children, about trusting human effort over trusting the LORD, and to the destroyers in Assyria.
Praise to The Lord
When you need to comfort someone who has lost a loved one, it’s hard to find the right word. The expressions “I’m sorry for your loss” or “They’re in a better place now” seem cliche and inadequate.
The next time you offer comfort to someone who is grieving, try paraphrasing Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 25. Reuniting with a loved one in eternity is a Christians’s greatest assurance.
Words of Comfort
The book of Isaiah makes a dramatic shift in chapters 40 – 66. The prophet now speaks about events that will occur after the Babylonian exile. He foretells the full scope of Jesus’ life. Isaiah has already told of His virgin birth (7:14). The prophet announces His coming, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord!” (40:3), His proclamation of the Good News (61:1), His sacrificial death (52:13–53:12). He also speaks of the future Kingdom when Jesus returns to claim His people (60:2–3). Isaiah wrote about His judgment against the enemies, and His final salvation for people who believe.
God Buddy Focus
Let’s not forget that the purpose of Isaiah’s chapters: to call us back to God. It also provides a prophetic picture of the Suffering Servant, including the full gamut of His human sorrow and suffering. Isaiah saw the good and the bad of the people of Israel. He warned them about the outcomes of their disobedience. But he told of the new heavens and new earth, which should also remind us to obey and encourage us about how Christ can restore us.
Some people seem oblivious to the suffering of our family and friends. As we become more Christlike, we can enter into the pain and suffer with them. It may through praying with them through a cancer diagnosis and treatments. You may comfort them through the death of a parent or a job loss. It may be simply reminding someone that as believers, we can always lean on the promises God made to restore us to Him.
- Find a time when you can pray for someone who is hurting using Isaiah 25.
- Read Isaiah 43:10-13 and meditate on the passage. What is its main message?
My next post will cover the two books from the prophet, Jeremiah.