Thursday, July 16, 2015

The value of the opening verse of Isaiah 1:1

Isaiah 1:1  "The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah."

Today's post is a quick overview of the opening verse of the book of Isaiah. It is amazing what you can learn of a Bible book by just considering the first verse. 

1. The nature of Isaiah's ministry as a prophet
When you read the above verse, what is it that is being communicated about the prophecy of Isaiah? Isaiah was going to write out what he saw by way of vision from God. As a prophet, he was able to see things from God's point of view. The idea of "vision" literally refers to someone given the God-given ability to see things supernaturally. Throughout scripture, though not everyone who saw a vision per se was a prophet in the strictest sense, yet the prophetic office included the idea of seeing, hearing and experiencing God's Word first-hand. The prophet was charged with communicating God's will to the people (see Amos 3:7). The older title for prophet, "Seer", expressed the perspective of the prophet as being one who could look at things the way God did (see Numbers 12:6; 1 Samuel 9:9)

2. Isaiah's audience
The audience to which Isaiah wrote were the Jews occupying Judah and Jerusalem. During the time of Isaiah's ministry, the land of Israel was divided into "two kingdoms", namely "Israel" to the North and "Judah" to the South. Roughly 250 years prior to Isaiah's time and during the end of King Solomon's reign, Solomon's heir Rehoboam had not heeded God's voice and as a result, ten of the twelve tribes of Israel followed after his then army general Jeroboam, with the two remaining tribes - Benjamin and Judah - staying in and around the city of Judah. Throughout the remainder of time, Judah to the South came to be the object of God's loving covenant purposes. Though Israel to the North was given promises of restoration with Judah in the future (Ezekiel 47), Judah to the South would have the favor of God as being the redemptive cradle of Jesus' humanity (Genesis 49:10; Matthew 1:1-17). For convenience sake I have included a map to illustrate the particular geographical locations just discussed (from

3. Isaiah's time and circumstance - seeing everything go from prosperity to ruin
Isaiah loved his people and within his long, four-decade plus ministry (740-698b.c), saw his nation go from near the height of its glory under Uzziah 783-742b.c) and Jotham (742-735b.c) to near destruction under Ahaz (735-715b.c) to revival and compromise under Hezekiah (715-687). Adam Clarke's commentary relays the situation in which Isaiah wrote. Though the quote is long, it is worth the time to read. If the reader is pressed for time, the quote can be skipped and the conclusion of today's post will then be given. Here is the quote: "The kingdom of Judah seems to have been in a more flourishing condition during the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham, than at any other time after the revolt of the ten tribes. The former recovered the port of Elath on the Red Sea, which the Edomites had taken in the reign of Joram. He was successful in his wars with the Philistines, and took from them several cities, Gath, Jabneh, Ashdod; as likewise against some people of Arabia Deserta, and against the Ammonites, whom he compelled to pay him tribute. He repaired and improved the fortifications of Jerusalem; and had a great army, well appointed and disciplined. He was no less attentive to the arts of peace; and very much encouraged agriculture, and the breeding of cattle. 

Jotham maintained the establishments and improvements made by his father; added to what Uzziah had done in strengthening the frontier places; conquered the Ammonites, who had revolted, and exacted from them a more stated and probably a larger tribute. However, at the latter end of his time, the league between Pekah, king of Israel, and Retsin, king of Syria, was formed against Judah; and they began to carry their designs into execution.

But in the reign of Ahaz his son not only all these advantages were lost, but the kingdom of Judah was brought to the brink of destruction. Pekah king of Israel overthrew the army of Ahaz, who lost in battle one hundred and twenty thousand men; and the Israelites carried away captives two hundred thousand women and children, who however were released and sent home again upon the remonstrance of the prophet Oded. After this, as it should seem, (see Vitrinpa on Isaiah 7:2;), the two kings of Israel and Syria, joining their forces, laid siege to Jerusalem; but in this attempt they failed of success. 

In this distress Ahaz called in the assistance of Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, who invaded the kingdoms of Israel and Syria, and slew Rezin; but he was more in danger than ever from his too powerful ally; to purchase whose forbearance, as he had before bought his assistance, he was forced to strip himself and his people of all the wealth he could possibly raise from his own treasury, from the temple, and from the country. About the time of the siege of Jerusalem the Syrians took Elath, which was never after recovered. 

The Edomites likewise, taking advantage of the distress of Ahaz, ravaged Judea, and carried away many captives. The Philistines recovered what they had before lost; and took many places in Judea, and maintained themselves there. Idolatry was established by the command of the king in Jerusalem, and throughout Judea; and the service of the temple was either intermitted, or converted into an idolatrous worship.

Hezekiah, his son, on his accession to the throne, immediately set about the restoration of the legal worship of God, both in Jerusalem and through Judea. He cleansed and repaired the temple, and held a solemn passover. He improved the city, repaired the fortification, erected magazines of all sorts, and built a new aqueduct. In the fourth year of his reign Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, invaded the kingdom of Israel, took Samaria, and carried away the Israelites into captivity, and replaced them by different people sent from his own country; and this was the final destruction of that kingdom, in the sixth year of the reign of Hezekiah."

Closing thoughts
The point of today's post was to unpack the opening verse of the Book of Isaiah to gain insight into the prophecy. The hope was that the reader could see what an opening verse of scripture contains and how one verse can give insight into what a particular Biblical author is going to write under Divine inspiration. As a matter of practical application, to know that Isaiah's day and age mirrors our own encourages us to seek God's will as we read, meditate and apply Bible books like Isaiah to our lives. 

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