International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
8. Isaiah's Prophecies Chronologically Arranged:
The editorial arrangement of Isaiah's prophecies is very suggestive. In the main they stand in chronological order. That is to say, all the dates mentioned are in strict historical sequence; e.g. Isa 6:1, "In the year that king Uzziah died" (740 BC); 7:1, "In the days of Ahaz" (736 ff BC); 14:28, "In the year that king Ahaz died" (727 BC); 20:1, "In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him" (711 BC); 36:1, "In the 14th year of king Hezekiah" (701 BC). These points are all in strict chronological order. Taken in groups, also, Isaiah's great individual messages are likewise arranged in true historical sequence; thus, Isa 1 through 6 for the most part belong to the last years of Jotham's reign (740-736 BC); Isa 7 through 12 to the period of the Syro-Ephraimitic war (734 BC); Isa 20, to the year of Sargon's siege of Ashdod (711 BC); Isa 28 through 32, to the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib (701 BC); while the distinctively promissory portions (Isa 40 through 66), as is natural, conclude the collection. In several minor instances, however, there are notable departures from a rigid chronological order. For example, Isa 6, which describes the prophet's initial call to preach, follows the rebukes and denunciations of Isa 1 through 5; but this is probably due to its being used by the prophet as an apologetic. Again, the oracles against foreign nations in Isa 13 through 23 belong to various dates, being grouped together, in part, at least, because of their subject-matter. Likewise, Isa 38 through 39, which give an account of Hezekiah's sickness and Merodach-baladan's embassy to him upon his recovery (714-712 BC), chronologically precede Isa 36 through 37, which describe Sennacherib's investment of Jerusalem (701 BC). This chiastic order, however, in the last instance, is due probably to the desire to make Isa 36 through 37 (about Sennacherib, king of Assyria) an appropriate conclusion to Isa 1 through 35 (which say much about Assyria), and, on the other hand, to make Isa 38 through 39 (about Merodach-baladan of Babylon) a suitable introduction to Isa 40 through 66 (which speak of Babylon).
The attempt to date Isaiah's individual messages on the basis of internal criteria alone, is a well-nigh impossible task; and yet no other kind of evidence is available. Often passages stand side by side which point in opposite directions; in fact, certain sections seem to be composed of various fragments dating from different periods, as though prophecies widely separated from each other in time had been fused together. In such cases much weight should be given to those features which point to an early origin, because of the predominatingly predictive character of Isaiah's writings.
Isaiah always had an eye upon the future. His semi-historical and biographical prophecies are naturally the easiest to date; on the other hand, the form of his Messianic and eschatological discourses is largely due to his own personal temper and psychology, rather than to the historical circumstances of the time. The following is a table of Isaiah's prophecies chronologically arranged:
The prophet's standpoint in Isa 40 through 66 is that of Isaiah himself. For if Isaiah, before 734 BC, in passages confessedly his own, could describe Judah's cities as already "burned with fire," Zion as deserted as "a booth in a vineyard" (1:7,8), Jerusalem as "ruined," Judah as "fallen" (3:8), and Yahweh's people as already "gone into captivity" (5:13), surely after all the destruction and devastation wrought on Judah by Assyria in the years 722, 720, 711, and 701 BC, the same prophet with the same poetic license could declare that the temple had been "trodden down" (63:18) and "burned with fire," and all Judah's pleasant places "laid waste" (64:11); and, in perfect keeping with his former promises, could add that "they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations" (61:4; compare 44:26; 58:12).
Or again, if Isaiah the son of Amoz could comfort Jerusalem with promises of protection when the Assyrian (734 BC) should come like an overflowing river (8:9,10; 10:24,25); and conceive a beautiful parable of comfort like that contained in 28:23-29; and insert among his warnings and exhortations of the gloomy year 702 BC so many precious promises of a brighter future which was sure to follow Sennacherib's invasion (29:17-24; 30:29-33; 31:8,9); and, in the very midst of the siege of 701 BC, conceive of such marvelous Messianic visions as those in 33:17-24 with which to dispel the dismay of his compatriots, surely the same prophet might be conceived of as seizing the opportunity to comfort those in Zion who survived the great catastrophe of 701 BC. The prophet who had done the one was prepared to do the other.
There was one circumstance of the prophet's position after 701 BC which was new, and which is too often overlooked, a circumstance which he could not have employed to anything like the same degree as an argument in enforcing his message prior to the Assyrian's overthrow and the deliverance of Jerusalem. It was this: the fulfillment of former predictions as proof of Yahweh's deity. From such passages we obtain an idea of the prophet's true historical position (Isa 42:9; 44:8; 45:21; 46:10; 48:3). Old predictions have already been fulfilled (Isa 6:11-13; 29:8; 30:31; 31:8; 37:7,30), on the basis of which the prophet ventures to predict new and even more astounding things concerning the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus, and Israel's deliverance through him from their captors (Isa 43:6). Isaiah's book is signally full of predictions (Isa 7:8,10 ff; 8:4,8; 9:11,12; 10:26 ff; 14:24-27; 16:14; 17:9,12-14; 20:4-6; 21:16; 22:19 ff; 23:15; 38:5), some of which, written down and sealed, were evidently committed by the prophet to his inner circle of disciples to be used and verified by them in subsequent crises (Isa 8:16). Failure to recognize this element in Isaiah's book is fatal to a true interpretation of the prophet's real message.
9. The Critical Problem:
"For about twenty-five centuries" as A. B. Davidson observes (Old Testament Prophecy, 1903, 244), "no one dreamed of doubting that Isaiah the son of Amoz was the author of every part of the book that goes under his name; and those who still maintain the unity of authorship are accustomed to point, with satisfaction, to the unanimity of the Christian church on the matter, till a few German scholars arose, about a century ago, and called in question the unity of this book." Tradition is unanimous in favor of the unity of the book.
(1) The History of Criticism.
The critical disintegration of the book began with Koppe, who in 1780 first doubted the genuineness of Isa 50. Nine years later Doederlein suspected the whole of Isa 40 through 66. He was followed by Rosenmueller, who was the first to deny to Isaiah the prophecy against Babylon in 13:1 through 14:23. Eichhorn, at the beginning of the last century, further eliminated the oracle against Tyre in Isa 23, and he, with Gesenius and Ewald, also denied the Isaianic origin of Isa 24 through 27. Gesenius also ascribed to some unknown prophet Isa 15 and 16. Rosenmueller then went farther, and pronounced against Isa 34 and 35, and not long afterward (1840) Ewald questioned Isa 12 and 33. Thus by the middle of the 19th century some 37 or 38 chapters were rejected as no part of Isaiah's actual writings. In 1879-80, the celebrated Leipzig professor, Franz Delitzsch, who for years previous had defended the genuineness of the entire book, finally yielded to the modern critical position, and in the new edition of his commentary published in 1889, interpreted Isa 40 through 66, though with considerable hesitation, as coming from the close of the period of Babylonian exile. About the same time (1888-90), Drs. Driver and G.A. Smith gave popular impetus to similar views in Great Britain. Since 1890, the criticism of Isaiah has been even more trenchant and microscopic than before. Duhm, Stade, Guthe, Hackmann, Cornill and Marti on the Continent, and Cheyne, Whitehouse, Box, Glazebrook, Kennett, Gray, Peake, and others in Great Britain and America have questioned portions which hitherto were supposed to be genuine.
(2) The Disintegration of "Deutero-Isaiah."
Even the unity of Isa 40 through 66, which were supposed to be the work of the "Second" or "Deutero-Isaiah," is now given up. What prior to 1890 was supposed to be the unique product of some celebrated but anonymous seer who lived in Babylonia about 550 BC is today commonly divided and subdivided and in large part distributed among various writers from Cyrus to Simon (538-164 BC). At first it was thought sufficient to separate Isa 63 through 66 as a later addition to "Deutero-Isaiah's" prophecies; but more recently it has become the fashion to distinguish between Isa 40 through 55, which are claimed to have been written by "Deutero-Isaiah" in Babylonia about 549-538 BC, and Isa 56 through 66, which are now alleged to have been composed by a "Trito-Isaiah" about 460-445 BC.
(3) Recent Views.
Among the latest to investigate the problem is Professor R.H. Kennett of Cambridge, English, who, in his Schweich Lectures (The Composition of the Book of Isaiah in the Light of History and Archaeology, 1910, 84 ff), sums up the results of investigations as follows: (a) all of Isa 3; 5; 6; 7; 20 and 31, and large portions of Isa 1; 2; 4; 8; 9; 10; 14; 17; 22 and 23, may be assigned to Isaiah, the son of Amoz; (b) all of Isa 13; 40 and 47, and large portions of Isa 14; 21; 41; 43; 44; 45; 46 and 48, may be assigned to the time of Cyrus; (c) all of Isa 15; 36; 37 and 39, and portions of Isa 16 and 38, may be assigned to the period between Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great, but cannot be dated precisely; (d) the passage 23:1-14 may be assigned to the time of Alexander the Great; (e) all of Isa 11; 12; 19; 24 through 27; 29; 30; 32 through 35; 42; 49 through 66; and portions of Isa 1; 2; 4; 8; 9; 10; 16; 17; 18; 23; 41; 44; 45; 48 may be assigned to the 2nd century BC (167-140 BC).
Professor C. F. Kent, also (Sermons, Epistles, and Apocalypses of Israel's Prophets, 1910, 27 ff), makes the following critical observations on Isa 40 through 66. He says: "The prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah .... afford by far the best approach for the study of the difficult problems presented by Isa 40 through 66. .... Isaiah 56 through 66 are generally recognized as post-exilic. .... In Isa 56 and the following chapters there are repeated references to the temple and its service, indicating that it had already been restored. Moreover, these references are not confined to the latter part of the book. .... The fact, on the one hand, that there are few, if any, allusions to contemporary events in these chapters, and on the other hand, that little or nothing is known of the condition and hopes of the Jews during this period (the closing years of the Babylonian exile) makes the dating of these prophecies possible, although far from certain. .... Also, the assumption that the author of these chapters lived in the Babylonian exile is not supported by a close examination of the prophecies themselves. Possibly their author was one of the few who, like Zerubbabel, had been born in Babylon and later returned to Israel. He was also dealing with such broad and universal problems that he gives few indications of his date and place of abode; but all the evidence that is found points to Jerusalem as the place where he lived and wrote. .... The prophet's interest and point of view center throughout in Jerusalem, and he shows himself far more familiar with conditions in Israel than in distant Babylon. Most of his illustrations are drawn from the agricultural life of Israel. His vocabulary is also that of a man dwelling in Israel, and in this respect is in marked contrast with the synonyms employed by Ezekiel, the prophet of the Babylonian exile."
That is to say, two of the most recent investigators of the Book of Isaiah reach conclusions quite at variance with the opinions advocated in 1890, when Delitzsch so reluctantly allowed that Isa 40 through 66 may have sprung from the period of Babylonian exile. Now, it is found that these last 27 chapters were written after the exile, most probably in Israel, rather than in Babylonia as originally claimed, and are no longer considered addressed primarily to the suffering exiles in captivity as was formerly urged.
(4) The Present State of the Question.
The present state of the Isaiah question is, to say the least, confusing. Those who deny the integrity of the book may be divided into two groups, which we may call moderates and radicals. Among the moderates may be included Drs. Driver, G.A. Smith, Skinner, Kirkpatrick, Koenig, A.B. Davidson, Barnes and Whitehouse. These all practically agree that the following chapters and verses are not Isaiah's: 11:10-16; 12; 13:1 through 14:23; 15:1 through 16:12; 21:1-10; 24 through 27; 34 through 35; 36 through 39; 40 through 66. That is to say, some 44 chapters out of the whole number, 66, were not written by Isaiah; or, approximately 800 out of 1,292 verses are not genuine. Among the radicals are Drs. Cheyne, Duhm, Hackmann, Guthe, Marti, Kennett and Gray. These all reject approximately 1,030 verses out of the total 1,292, retaining the following only as the genuine product of Isaiah and his age: 1:2-26;29-31; 2:6-19; 3:1,5,8,9,12-17; 4:1; 5:1-14,17-29; 6; 7:1-8,22; 9:8 through 10:9; 10:13,14,27-32; 17:1-14; 18; 20; 22:1-22; 28:1-4,7-22; 29:1-6,9,10,13-15; 30:1-17; 31:1-4. That is, only about 262 verses out of the total 1,292 are allowed to be genuine. This is, we believe, a fair statement of the Isaiah-question as it exists in the hands of divisive critics today.
On the other hand there have been those who have defended and who still defend the essential unity of Isaiah's entire book, e.g. Strachey (1874), Nagelsbach (1877), Bredenkamp (1887), Douglas (1895), W.H. Cobb (1883-1908), W.H. Green (1892), Vos (1898-99), Thirtle (1907), Margoliouth (1910) and O.T. Allis (1912).
(5) Reasons for Dissecting the Book.
The fundamental axiom of criticism is the dictum that a prophet always spoke out of a definite historical situation to the present needs of the people among whom he lived, and that a definite historical situation shall be pointed out for each prophecy. This fundamental postulate, which on the whole is reasonable and perfectly legitimate if not overworked, underlies all modern criticism of Old Testament prophecy. It is not possible, however, always to trace a mere snatch of sermonic discourse to a definite historical situation apart from its context. Moreover, the prophets often spoke consciously, not only to their own generation, but also to the generations to come. Isaiah in particular commanded, "Bind thou up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples" (8:16); that is, preserve my teachings for the future. Again in 30:8, he says, "Now go, .... inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever." And also in 42:23, "Who is there among you that will give ear to this? that will hearken and hear for the time to come?"
Certain false presuppositions often govern critics in their disintegration of the book. Only a few examples need be given by way of illustration: (a) According to some, "the conversion of the heathen" lay quite beyond the horizon of any 8th-century prophet; consequently, Isa 2:2-4 and all similar passages which foretell the conversion of those outside the chosen people are to be relegated to an age subsequent to Isaiah. (b) To others, "the picture of universal peace" in Isa 11:1-9 is a symptom of late date, and therefore this section and all kindred ones must be deleted. (c) To others, the thought of "universal judgment" upon "the whole earth" in 14:26 and elsewhere quite transcends Isaiah's range of thought. (d) To others still, the apocalyptic character of Isa 24 through 27 represents a phase of Hebrew thought which prevailed in Israel only after Ezekiel. (e) Even to those who are considered moderates "the poetic character" of a passage like Isa 12, and the references to a "return" from captivity, as in 11:11-16, and the promises and consolations such as are found in Isa 33 are cited as grounds for assigning these and similar passages to a much later age. Radicals deny in toto the existence of all Messianic passages among Isaiah's own predictions, relegating all Messianic hope to a much later age.
But to deny to the Isaiah of the 8th century all catholicity of grace, all universalism of salvation or judgment, every highly developed Messianic ideal, every rich note of promise and comfort, all sublime faith in the sacrosanct character of Zion, as some do, is unwarrantably to create a new Isaiah of greatly reduced proportions, a mere preacher of righteousness, a statesman of not very optimistic vein, and the exponent of a cold ethical religion without the warmth and glow of the messages which are actually ascribed to the prophet of the 8th century.
As a last resort, certain critics have appealed to 2 Ch 36:22,23 as external evidence that Isa 40 through 66 existed as a separate collection in the Chronicler's age. But the evidence obtained from this source is so doubtful that it is well-nigh valueless. For it is not the prediction of Isaiah concerning Cyrus to which the Chronicler points as Jeremiah's, but the "70 years" of Babylonian supremacy spoken of in 2 Ch 36:21, which Jeremiah actually did predict (compare Jer 25:11; 29:10). On the other hand, Isa 40 through 66 were certainly ascribed to Isaiah as early as 180 BC, for Jesus Ben-Sirach, the author of Ecclesiasticus, speaks of Isaiah as the prophet who "saw by an excellent spirit that which should come to pass at the last, and comforted them that mourned in Zion" (Ecclesiasticus 48:20 ff; compare Isa 40:1 ff). Furthermore, there is absolutely no proof that Isa 1 through 39, or Isa 40 through 66, or any other section of Isaiah's prophecies ever existed by themselves as an independent collection; nor is there any substantial ground for supposing that the promissory and Messianic portions have been systematically interpolated by editors long subsequent to Isaiah's own time. The earlier prophets presumably did more than merely threaten.
(6) Arguments for One Isaiah.
It is as unreasonable to expect to be able to prove the unity of Isaiah as to suppose that it has been disproved. Internal evidence is indecisive in either case. There are arguments, however, which corroborate a belief that there was but one Isaiah. Here are some of those which might be introduced:
(a) The Circle of Ideas:
The circle of ideas, which are strikingly the same throughout the entire book: For example, take the characteristic name for God, which is almost peculiar to Isaiah, "the Holy One of Israel." This title for Yahweh occurs in the Book of Isaiah a total of 25 times, and only 6 times elsewhere in the Old Testament, one of which is a parallel passage in Kings. This unique epithet, "the Holy One of Israel," interlocks all the various portions with one another and stamps them with the personal imprimatur of him who saw the vision of the majestic God seated upon His throne, high and lifted up, and heard the angelic choirs singing: "Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory" (6:3). The presence of this Divine title in all the different sections of the book is of more value in identifying Isaiah as the author of all these prophecies than though his name had been inserted at the beginning of every chapter, for the reason that his theology--his conception of God as the Holy One--is woven into the very fiber and texture of the whole book. It occurs 12 times in Isa 1 through 39, and 13 times in Isa 40 through 66; and it is simply unscientific to say that the various alleged authors of the disputed portions all employed the same title through imitation (compare 1:4; 5:19,24; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19; 30:11,12,15; 31:1; 37:23; also 41:14,16,20; 43:3,14; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5; 60:9,14; elsewhere, only in 2 Ki 19:22; Ps 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Jer 50:29; 51:5).
Another unique idea which occurs with considerable repetition in the Book of Isaiah is the thought of a "highway" (compare 11:16; 35:8; 40:3; 43:19; 49:11; 57:14; 62:10). Another characteristic idea is that of a "remnant" (compare 1:9; 10:20,21,22; 11:11,16; 14:22,30; 15:9; 16:14; 17:3; 21:17; 28:5; 37:31; 46:3; compare 65:8,9). Another striking trait of the book is the position occupied by "Zion" in the prophet's thoughts (compare 2:3; 4:5; 18:7; 24:23; 28:16; 29:8; 30:19; 31:9; 33:5,20; 34:8; 46:13; 49:14; 51:3,16; 52:1; 59:20; 60:14; 62:1,11; 66:8). Still another is the oft-repeated expression, "pangs of a woman in travail" (compare 13:8; 21:3; 26:17,18; 42:14; 54:1; 66:7). These, and many others less distinctive, psychologically stamp the book with an individuality which it is difficult to account for, if it be broken up into countless fragments and distributed, as some do, over the centuries.
(b) The Literary Style:
As negative evidence, literary style is not a very safe argument; for, as Professor McCurdy says, "In the case of a writer of Isaiah's environments, style is not a sure criterion of authorship" (History, Prophecy and the Monuments, II, 317, note). Yet it is certainly remarkable that the clause "for the mouth of Yahweh hath spoken it" should be found 3 times in the Book of Isaiah, and nowhere else in the Old Testament (compare 1:20; 40:5; 58:14). And it is noteworthy that the phrase, "streams of water," should occur twice in Isaiah and nowhere else (compare 30:25; 44:4 in the Hebrew). And very peculiar is the tendency on the prophet's part to emphatic reduplication (compare 2:7,8; 6:3; 8:9; 24:16,23; 40:1; 43:11,25; 48:15; 51:12; 57:19; 62:10). In fact, it is not extravagant to say that Isaiah's style differs widely from that of every other Old Testament prophet, and is as far removed as possible from that of Ezekiel and the post-exilic prophets.
(c) Historical References:
Take, for example, first, the prophet's constant reference to Judah and Jerusalem, his country and its capital (Isa 1:7-9; 3:8; 24:19; 25:2; 40:2,9; 62:4); likewise, to the temple and its ritual of worship and sacrifice. In Isa 1:11-15, when all was prosperous, the prophet complained that the people were profuse and formal in their ceremonies and sacrifices; in 43:23,14, on the contrary, when the country had been overrun by the Assyrian and Sennacherib had besieged the city, the prophet reminds them that they had not brought to Yahweh the sheep of their burnt offerings, nor honored Him with their sacrifices; while in 66:1-3,6,20, not only is the existence of the Temple and the observance of the ritual presupposed, but those are sentenced who place their trust in the material temple, and the outward ceremonials of temple-worship. As for the "exile," the prophet's attitude to it throughout is that of both anticipation and realization. Thus, in 57:1, judgment is only threatened, not yet inflicted: "The righteous is taken away from the evil to come." That is to say, the exile is described as still future. On the other hand, in 3:8, "Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen," which seems to describe the exile as in the past; yet, as everybody admits, these are the words of Isaiah of the 8th century. In 11:11,12, the prophet says, "The Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people. .... from the four corners of the earth." To interpret such a statement literally and mechanically without regard to 8th-century conditions, or to Isaiah's manifest attitude to the exile, leads to confusion. No prophet realized so keenly or described so vividly the destiny of the Hebrews.
(d) The Predictive Element:
This is the strongest proof of the unity of the Book of Isaiah. Prediction is the very essence of prophecy (compare Dt 18:22); Isaiah was preeminently a prophet of the future. With unparalleled suddenness, he repeatedly leaps from despair to hope, from threat to promise, and from the actual to the ideal. What Professor Kent says of "Deutero-Isaiah" may with equal justice be said of Isaiah himself: "While in touch with his own age, the great unknown prophet lives in the atmosphere of the past and the future" (Sermons, Epistles, and Apocalypses of Israel's Prophets, 28). Isaiah spoke to his own age, but he also addressed himself to the ages to follow. His verb tenses are characteristically futures and prophetic perfects. Of his book A.B. Davidson's words are particularly true: "If any prophetic book be examined .... it will appear that the ethical and religious teaching is always secondary, and that the essential thing in the book or discourse is the prophet's outlook into the future" (HDB, article "Prophecy and Prophets," IV, 119).
Isaiah was exceptionally given to predicting: thus (a) before the Syro-Ephraimitic war (734 BC), he predicted that within 65 years Ephraim should be broken to pieces (7:8); and that before the child Maher-shalal-hash-baz should have knowledge to cry, "My father," or "My mother," the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria should be carried away (8:4; compare 7:16). These are, however, but two of numerous predictions, as shown above, among his earlier prophecies (compare 1:27,28; 2:2-4; 6:13; 10:20-23; 11:6-16; 17:14).
(i) Shortly before the downfall of Samaria in 722 BC, Isaiah predicted that Tyre should be forgotten 70 years, and that after the end of 70 years her merchandise should be holiness to Yahweh (23:15,18).
(ii) In like manner prior to the siege of Ashdod in 711 BC, he proclaimed that within 3 years Moab should be brought into contempt (Isa 16:l4), and that within a year all the glory of Kedar should fail (Isa 21:16).
(iii) And not long prior to the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 BC, he predicted that in an instant, suddenly, a multitude of Jerusalem's foes should be as dust (Isa 29:5); that yet a very little while and Lebanon should be turned into a fruitful field (Isa 29:17); and that Assyria should be dismayed and fall by the sword, but not of men (Isa 30:17,31; 31:8). And more, that for days beyond a year, the careless women of Jerusalem should be troubled (Isa 32:10,16-20); and that the righteous in Zion should see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, and return and come with singing (Isa 33:17 ff; 35:4,10); but that Sennacherib, on the contrary, should hear tidings and return without shooting an arrow into the city (Isa 37:7,26-29,33-35).
In like manner, also, after the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 BC was over, the prophet seems to have continued to predict; and, in order to demonstrate to the suffering and unbelieving remnant about him the deity of Yahweh and the folly of idolatry, pointed to the predictions which he had already made in the earlier years of his ministry, and to the fact that they had been fulfilled. Thus, he says, "Who hath declared it from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, He is right?" (Isa 41:21-23,16); "Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them" (Isa 42:9,23); "Who among them can declare this, and show us former things (i.e. things to come in the immediate future)? .... I have declared, and I have saved, and I have showed" (Isa 43:9,12); "Who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it ....? And the things that are coming, and that shall come to pass, let them (the idols) declare. .... Have I not declared unto thee of old, and showed it? And ye are my witnesses. .... That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure, even saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built; and of the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid" (Isa 44:7,8,27,28); "It is I, Yahweh, who call thee by thy name, even the God of Israel. .... I have called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. .... Ask me of the things that are to come. .... I have raised him (Cyrus) up in righteousness, and .... he shall build my city, and he shall let my exiles go free" (45:3,4,11,13); "Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done; .... calling a ravenous bird (Cyrus) from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country; yea, I have spoken, I will also bring it to pass" (Isa 46:10,11); "I have declared the former things from of old, .... and I showed them: suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. .... I have declared it .... from of old; before it came to pass I showed it thee; lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them" (Isa 48:3,5); "I have showed thee new things from
this time, even hidden things. .... Yea, from of old thine ear was not opened. .... Who among them hath declared these things? .... I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him; .... from the beginning I have not spoken in secret" (Isa 48:6-8,14-16). Such predictions are explicit and emphatic.
(e) Cyrus a Subject of Prediction:
From all the above-mentioned explicit and oft-repeated predictions one thing is obvious, namely, that great emphasis is laid by the prophet on prediction throughout the entire Book of Isaiah. And it must be further allowed that "Cyrus" is represented by the author as predicted, from any point of view. The only question is, Does the prophet emphasize the fact that he himself is predicting the coming of Cyrus? or that former predictions concerning Cyrus are now, as the prophet writes, coming to pass before his readers' eyes? Canon Cheyne's remark upon this point is instructive. He says: "The editor, who doubtless held the later Jewish theory of prophecy, may have inferred from a number of passages, especially Isa 41:26; 48:3,1.14, that the first appearance of Cyrus had been predicted by an ancient prophet, and observing certain Isaianic elements in the phraseology of these chapters, may have identified the prophet with Isaiah" (Introduction to the Book of Isaiah, 238).
Dr. G.A. Smith likewise allows that Cyrus is the fulfillment of former predictions.
He says: "Nor is it possible to argue, as some have tried to do, that the prophet is predicting these things as if they had already happened. For as part of argument for the unique divinity of the God of Israel, Cyrus, `alive and irresistible,' and already accredited with success, is pointed out as the unmistakable proof that former prophecies of a deliverance for Israel are already coming to pass. Cyrus, in short, is not presented as a prediction, but as a proof that a prediction is being fulfilled" (HDB, article "Isaiah," 493). And further he says: "The chief claim, therefore, which Isa 40 ff make for the God of Israel is His power to direct the history of the world in conformity to a long-predicted and faithfully followed purpose. This claim starts from the proof that Yahweh has long before predicted events now happening or about to happen, with Cyrus as their center. But this is much more than a proof of isolated predictions, though these imply omniscience. It is a declaration of the unity of history sweeping to the high ends which have been already revealed to Israel--an exposition, in short, of the Omnipotence, Consistence, and Faithfulness of the Providence of the One True God" (ibid., 496).
It is obvious, therefore, in any case, whether these chapters are early or late, that Cyrus is the subject of prediction. It really makes little difference at which end of history one takes his stand, whether in the 8th century BC with Isaiah, or in the 6th century BC with "Deutero-Isaiah." Cyrus, to the author of these chapters, is the subject of prediction. In other words, whether indeed the author is really predicting Cyrus in advance of all apparent fulfillment, or Cyrus is the fulfillment of some ancient prediction by another, does not alter the fact that Cyrus was the subject of prediction on the part of somebody. Accordingly, as was stated at the outset, the whole question is, which does the prophet emphasize, (a) the fact that he himself is predicting? or, (b) that former predictions by someone else are now before his eyes coming to pass? The truth is, the prophet seems to live in the atmosphere of the past and the future as well as in the present, all of which are equally vivid to his prophetic mind. This is a peculiar characteristic of Isaiah. It is seen in the account he gives of his inaugural vision (Isa 6), of which Delitzsch remarks that it is "like a prediction in the process of being fulfilled." The same is true of Isa 24 through 27. There the prophet repeatedly projects himself into the future, and speaks from the standpoint of the fulfillment of his predictions. It is especially true of Isa 40 through 48. At one time the prophet emphasizes the fact that he is predicting, and a little later he describes his predictions as coming to pass. When, accordingly, a decision is made as to when the author predicted Cyrus, it is more natural to suppose that he was doing so long before Cyrus' actual appearance. This, in fact, is in keeping with the test of true prophecy contained in Dt 18:22: "When a prophet speaketh in the name of Yahweh, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which Yahweh hath not spoken; the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou shalt not be afraid of him." Besides, there is a similar explicit prediction in the Old Testament, namely, that of King Josiah, who was foretold by name two centuries before he came (1 Ki 13:2; compare 2 Ki 23:15,16).
Dr. W. H. Cobb in the Journal of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, 1901, 79, pleads for a "shrinkage of Cyrus," because Cyrus figures only in Isa 40 through 48, and is then dismissed. Dr. Thirtle, on the other hand, argues that the name "Cyrus" is a mere appellative, being originally not Koresh (Cyrus), but choresh ("workman," "artificer," "imagebreaker"), and that 44:27,28 is a gloss (compare Old Testament Problems, 244-64). But in opposition to these views the present writer prefers to write Cyrus large, and to allow frankly that he is the subject of extraordinary prediction. For the very point of the author's argument is, that he is predicting events which Yahweh alone is capable of foretelling or bringing to pass; in other words, that prescience is the proof of Yahweh's deity. Isaiah lived in an age when Yahweh's secrets were first revealed privately unto His servants the prophets (compare Am 3:7). Political conditions were unsettled and kaleidoscopic, and there was every incentive to predict. That Isaiah actually uttered wonderful predictions. is attested, furthermore, both by Jesus Ben-Sirach in Ecclesiasticus 48:20-25 (written circa 180 BC), and by Josephus in his Ant, XI, i, 1, 2 (dating from circa 100 AD); and these are ancient traditions worthy of credence.
Recently, Mr. Oswald T. Allis, after a thorough and exhaustive critical investigation of "the numerico-climactic structure" of the poem in Isa 44:24-28, concludes that "the most striking and significant features of the poem favor the view that while the utterance was significant in and of itself, it was chiefly significant in view of the exceptional circumstance under which it was spoken, i.e. in view of its early date. The chronological arrangement of the poem assigns the Restoration and Cyrus to the future. The perspective of the poem, together with the abrupt change of person in the 2nd strophe, argues that the future is a remote future. And finally the carefully constructed double climax attaches a significance to the definiteness of the utterance which is most easily accounted for if this future was so remote that a definite disclosure concerning it would be of extraordinary importance." And he further alleges that "it is impossible, if justice is done to the plain declarations of Scripture, to limit the prophetic horizon of the prophet Isaiah to the preexilic period and that .... when the form of the poem is recognized, there is every reason to assign it to a pre-exilic prophet, to Isaiah, since the form of the poem is admirably calculated to emphasize the fact that Cyrus and the Restoration belong to a distant future, and to make it clear that it is just because of this fact that the definitehess of the prophecy, the mention of Cyrus by name, is so remarkable and of such unique significance" (Biblical and Theological Studies, by the members of the Faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary, Centennial Volume, 1912, 628-29).
After all, why should men object to prediction on so large a scale? Unless there is definiteness about any given prediction, and unless it transcends ordinary prognostication, there is no especial value in it. Should it be objected, however, that prediction of so minute a character is "abhorrent to reason," the answer is already at hand; it may be abhorrent to reason, but it is a handmaid to faith. Faith has to do with the future, even as prediction has to do with the future; and the Old Testament is preeminently a book which encourages faith. There is really no valid objection to the prediction of Cyrus. For the one outstanding differentiating characteristic of Israel's religion is predictive prophecy. The Hebrews certainly predicted the coming of a Messiah. Indeed, the Hebrews were the only people of antiquity whose "Golden Age" lay in the future rather than in the past. Accordingly, to predict the coming of a Cyrus as the human agent of Israel's salvation is but the reverse side of the same prophet's picture of the Divine agent, namely, the obedient, Suffering Servant of Yahweh, who would redeem Israel from its sin. Deny to Isaiah the son of Amoz the prediction concerning Cyrus, and it is but logical to go farther and to deny to him the Messianic hope which is usually associated with his name. Deny to Isaiah the son of Amoz the predictions concerning a return from captivity, and the prophecies of his book are robbed of their essential character and unique perspective. Emasculate those portions of the Book of Isaiah which unveil the future, and they are reduced to a mere vaticinium ex eventu, and their religious value as Divine oracles is largely lost.
So much has been written on Isaiah's prophecies that only a selected list can be given here:
I. Commentaries on Isaiah:
Owen C. Whitehouse, The New Century Bible, 2 volumes, 1905; J. Skinner, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, 2 volumes, 1896-98; W.E. Barnes, The Churchman's Bible, 2 volumes, 1901-3; G.A. Smith, The Expositor's Bible, 2 volumes, 1888-90; Franz Delitzsch, Clark's Foreign Theological Library, 2 volumes, 1892; (C. von Orelli, Clark's Foreign Theological Library, 1895; T.K. Cheyne, The Prophecies of Isaiah, 2 volumes, 1892; G.W. Wade, Westminster Commentaries, 1911; G.H. Box, The Book of Isaiah, 1909; G.B. Gray, International Critical Commentary, I, chapters i-xxvii, 1912; II, chapters xxviii-lxvi, by G.B. Gray and A.S. Peake; J.E. McFadyen, "Book of the Prophecies of Isaiah" (The Bible for Home and School), 1910; G. Campbell Morgan, The Analyzed Bible, 2 volumes, 1910; Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 volumes, 1906; H.G. Mitchell, Isaiah: A Study of chapters 1-12, 1897; Nagelsbach in Lange's Bibelwerk, English edition, 1878; J.A. Alexander, 1865; H. Ewald, English edition, 1876-81; John Calvin, English edition, 1850; R. Lowth, 1778; Vitringa, 1732; W. Gesenius, 1820-21; F. Hitzig, 1833; C.J. Bredenkamp, 1887; A. Dillmann, 1890, as revised by Kittel, 1898; B. Duhm, in Nowack's Handkommentar zum Altes Testament, 1892; K. Marti, 1900; A. Condamin (Roman Catholic), 1905.
II. Introduction and Criticism:
S.R. Driver, Isaiah, His Life and Times, in "The Men of the Bible Series," 1888; T.K. Cheyne, Introduction to the Book of Isaiah, 1895; W.R. Smith, The Prophets of Israel, 2nd edition, 1896; A.F. Kirkpatrick, The Doctrine of the Prophets, 1892; J.W. Thirtle, Old Testament Problems, 1907; W.E. Barnes, An Examination of Isaiah 24-27, 1891; G. Douglas, Isaiah One and His Book One, 1895; J. Kennedy, A Popular Argument for the Unity of Isaiah, 1891; E. Koenig, The Exiles' Book of Consolation, 1899; G.C. Workman, The Servant of Yahweh, 1907; M.G. Glazebrook, Studies in the Book of Isaiah, 1910; R.H. Kennett, The Composition of the Book of Isaiah in the Light of History and Archaeology, 1910; R.R. Ottley, Isaiah according to the Septuagint, 1904; Hackmann, Die Zukunftserwartung des Jesaia, 1893; J. Meinhold, Die Jesajaerzahlungen, Jesaja 36-39, 1898; O.T. Allis, "The Transcendence of Yahweh, God of Israel, Isa 44:24-28," in Biblical and Theological Studies, Princeton's Centennial Commemoration Volume, 1912, 579634; J. Hastings, The Great Texts of the Bible, 1910; C.S. Robinson, The Gospel in Isaiah, 1895; E. Sievers, Metrische Studien, 1901; G.L. Robinson, The Book of Isaiah, 1910; H. Guthe, Das Zukunfisbild des Jesaia, 1885; Feldmann, Der Knecht Gottes, 1907; W. Urwick, The Servant of Yahweh, 1877; K. Cramer, The Historical Background of Isa 56 through 66, 1905; A.B. Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy, 1903.
III. Articles in Journals and Dictionaries:
W.H Cobb in Journal of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, 1891, II; 1895, I and II; 1898, I; 1901, I; 1908, I; F. Brown, JBL, 1890, I; W. H. Cobb, in the BS, 1882; G. A. Smith, article "Isaiah" in HDB, 1899; T. K. Cheyne, in the EB, 1901, and in the Encyclopedia Brit, 11th edition, 1910; Jas. Robertson, in the Illustrated Bible Dict., 1908; E. Koenig, in the Standard Bible Dict., 1909; A. Klostermann and J. A. Kelso, in The New Sch-Herz, 1910; A. Klostermann in the See Hauck-Herzog, Realencyklopadie fur protestantische Theologie und Kirche, 1900; G. Vos, Presbyterian and Reformed Review, 1898; D.S. Margoliouth, in The Temple Dictionary, 1910; C.A. Briggs, article "Analysis of Isa 40 through 62" in Harper Memorial Volume.
George L. Robinson
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'ISAIAH, 8-9'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
; 1915.Copyright Information
© International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
ISBE Bible Encyclopedia Home
Bible History Online Home
Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
Online Bible (KJV)
Naves Topical Bible
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Matthew Henry Bible Commentary
Hitchcock's Bible Dictionary
Related Bible History