The Holy Scriptures

Isaiah 1‑66  •  3 min. read  •  grade level: 11
The Major Prophets—Introduction
The book of Isaiah marks the beginning of the so-called Major Prophets, a division that also takes in Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.
The Minor Prophets (minor merely because they are shorter) follow, from Hosea to Malachi. With the failure of the priesthood (1 Sam. 14), the prophet, by God’s sovereign appointment, became the means whereby He could address Himself to the conscience of His people. The priest was the people’s representative before Jehovah; the prophet was Jehovah’s mouthpiece to the people.
Prophecy presents the mind of God, not just with respect to future events, but also as to present state. It is for this reason that the books of Joshua through Kings are to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures within the portion known as “The Prophets” (Luke 24:4444And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. (Luke 24:44)).
Prophecy is two-sided. On the one hand, it reveals the sinful state of the people and God’s judgment—His strange work (Isa. 28:2121For the Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act. (Isaiah 28:21)). On the other hand, it reveals His heart in love, in particular the promise of the coming of the Messiah. One cannot be without the other.
The opening verse of Isaiah gives us the name of the prophet, the subject of his vision, and the time when it was received. Isaiah was a prophet of Judah during the final years of Israel’s history (the ten tribes), when the Assyrian threatened and finally took that nation captive and besieged Jerusalem (2 Kings 15-20).
Chapters 36-39 are a historic account of this period, and, as is frequently the case, present conditions are used as an illustration of God’s future dealings. Jerusalem’s deliverance from the Assyrian and Hezekiah’s recovery from sickness are types and signs to Israel of their deliverance and restoration.
The first prophetic section, chapters 1-35, gives the external history of Israel with respect to the surrounding nations. The final section, chapters 40-66, presents Israel’s internal history. Kings and peoples are no longer prominent; rather, this is God’s controversy with His people. While Isaiah addresses many nations, the prophecies are centered on Judah and Jerusalem (Isa. 1:11The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. (Isaiah 1:1)). The prophecies of Isaiah are the most comprehensive and His statements concerning Christ the most full.
Within this broad outline there are further divisions. In chapters 1-12 we have Judah’s sinful condition. Two subjects of supreme importance are introduced: Christ Immanuel (Isa. 7:1414Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)), and the Assyrian, the rod of Mine anger (Isa. 10:55O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. (Isaiah 10:5)). The section ends in a song of triumph.
In chapters 13-27 judgment is pronounced on Israel’s enemies. Beginning with the surrounding nations, it goes on to address the host of the high ones that are on high and the kings of the earth upon the earth (ch. 24:21), death is swallowed up in victory (ch. 25:8), His indignation is poured out on inhabitants of the earth (ch. 26:20), and the dragon that is in the sea is slain (ch. 27:1). The portion concludes with worship (ch. 27:13).
Chapters 40-48 give us God’s controversy with Israel because of their idolatry. Cyrus is a type of the Deliverer; he was the executor of judgment upon idolatrous Babylon (ch. 45).
Then in chapters 49-57 we have God’s controversy with Israel because of their having rejected the Messiah.
Finally, in chapters 58-66 we have the deliverance and blessing of the remnant.
N. Simon