Setting the Record Straight: Luke’s Prologue

The past few years have been ripe with disinformation, misinformation, alternative facts, etc. Facebook has become a catalyst for spreading such, with algorithms set to pop up what suits one’s fancy. We have no certainty about what is trustworthy anymore, but truth-seekers can sift through the material—identifying both the true and false. It’s easy to use our preferred sources because they validate our preconceptions, but we should use caution because they may blind us in the process. When Luke wrote his account of the good news, he wrote against the backdrop of other circulating versions. He carefully investigated the matter, knew eyewitnesses, and drafted an orderly arrangement to straighten the record. 

Eusebius (4th-century bishop) wrote that the order of the Gospels is according to their composition. He noted that the apostle John, after obtaining copies of the Matthew, Mark, and Luke (synoptic gospels), “welcomed them … and confirmed their accuracy” (Eccl. Hist. 3.24). Eusebius identified other gospels such as the Gospel of Hebrews, Peter, Thomas, Matthias, and others (Eccl. Hist., 3.25; cf. Origen, Luke 1.1–3), but these were disputed. Luke noted that “many” had tried to write narratives (Luke 1:1), so he wrote in response to inadequate or false gospels. His own, however, was from “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2)—neither of which he was. The other accounts contributed to confusion rather than clarity. Luke wanted to give an orderly arrangement (Luke 1:3). His meaning of “orderly” differs from what we might initially think. He doesn’t give a chronological but a topical account. His arrangement differs from Matthew’s and Mark’s but contains some of the same material though placed in a different order. 

He notifies the reader that he has investigated the things about which he writes—“having had a perfect understanding of all things from the very first” (Luke 1:3). This phrase could be translated, “Since I had carefully followed all of it from the beginning.” It’s like saying that a person had kept up with the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard debacle from when it was simply accusations. Luke followed things closely and used various sources, one of whom might have been Mary, the mother of Christ. The first two chapters are full of information that she would have known (Luke 2:19, 51). Peter (cf. Luke 6:14) and Mark might have also been a source for Luke, given the call for Mark—Peter’s companion—in 2 Timothy 4:11 and his presence in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24 with Luke.  Being a traveling companion of Paul, Luke would have no doubt received information from him. Paul quoted from Luke 10:7 in 1 Timothy 5:17–18 and referred to his gospel (Rom. 2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim. 2:8), which has led to the speculation that Luke wrote Paul’s gospel, though it doesn’t bear the latter’s name. Nevertheless, we mustn’t discount the work of the Holy Spirit to have provided information otherwise unknown to Luke since this Gospel gives attention to the ministry of the Spirit (Luke 1:15, 35, 41, 67). 

The audience of this gospel was likely Gentile-Christian to whom Luke explains various details of Jewish customs. He also uses the Septuagint when quoting from the Old Testament. One scholar suggests that Luke was written toward the end of the first century and to the third generation of Christians—predominantly Gentile. His writing more or less explains why fewer Jews than in the first decade of Christianity believe in Jesus. Both the Christians and Jews have the same Scriptures, but many Jews rejected Jesus as the Christ. Yet, Luke aims to show continuity between the story of Israel and the church. He doesn’t see it as two separate religions but as the continuation of the one.  

Theophilus’ (“he who loves God”) identity has been widely debated as that of either a Roman official (cf. Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25), a financier of Luke’s work, or a wealthy Christian who housed a church. Another possibility was that Theophilus was Luke’s inspiration—not in the sense of the Holy Spirit’s inspiring one—and the mention of his name was a mere dedication of the work to Theophilus. This writing was to give him certainty of what he’d already learned. 

Some interesting facts about Luke:

  • His gospel account appears in all early lists of the New Testament canon.
  • His gospel and Acts are written in sophisticated Greek.
  • They are also written as ancient epics were (e.g., Homer, Odyssey; Virgil, Aeneid).

Repealing Roe v. Wade

It will come as no surprise if you’re reading this, that I am pro-life. Not pro-birth, but pro-life. If you want to stop reading at this point, that’s at your discretion.

Many people are disturbed about the leaked SCOTUS opinion, and others believe they’ve won the victory of a lifetime. Both are somewhat correct but also wrong. Abortion is not being outlawed because of this repeal. Repealing Roe only returns the matter to the states rather than the federal government legislating it. True, some states will seek to outlaw it, but others will not. State legislatures will decide the matter, so you actually have a say in who you vote for in your state based on this and other issues. This isn’t a threat to democracy, it’s actually the greatest exercise of democracy. The reason some senators and congressmen are enraged is in part that the power is being taken out of their hands and placed in the state’s hands. They run on these platforms and win elections based on them. Now they have been proven insignificant, so they will try to regain their significance.

Our founders framed the nation as a federalist system, which means that an area is controlled by two levels of government. In our country, that’s the federal and state governments. The constitution enumerates the rights that the states surrender to the federal government, and any matter not addressed in the constitution is to be left to the states as per the tenth amendment. Many jurists on the left and right have believed that Roe wasn’t altogether kosher. Even Ruth Bader Ginsberg believed the decision was an overreach. The thought is that the Supreme Court should have struck down the law as unconstitutional and left it at that. Instead, the court wrote an entire opinion that became enshrined as law. There’s probably a better way to put it, but this will suffice.

Those who say they’re pro-life (myself included) should not think their job is finished. If anything, they should now, if they already haven’t, begin advocating for affordable or free contraception, healthcare, childcare, and various other programs that would deter abortion. The goal is to remove every reason a mother might think that her best option is to abort. That would go a long way towards helping the issue overall. According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, 75% of abortion patients are poor or low-income. Addressing this and other issues may help. Furthermore, when ACA was signed into law, a 7% decrease in abortions was reported between 2014 and 2017 because many uninsured women obtained healthcare. Pro-lifers often dismiss such things, but if we truly care, we’ll look at the data and advocate.

Those who are pro-choice should realize that for the past two years, bodily autonomy was a silly notion to some of these same people as they wanted to force everyone to wear masks and be vaccinated, even going so far as to use agencies to achieve such ends. Unelected bureaucrats in said agencies, mind you. Then there’s the discussion around the lack of a definition of what a woman is. All of a sudden, now that this issue has risen to the surface, the binary reality of the sexes has become the paradigm once more. Many things that some of these folks advocate for contradicts in some way what they stand for, and the only consistency is that they are constantly inconsistent. Black Lives Matter unless they’re in the womb. Women’s rights matter, but what about those girls in the womb?

As for myself, I was born to two teenagers. I was unplanned. I know there are more reasons for this discussion, but I’ll speak about mine. I’m glad to be alive. My parents could have decided to abort me, but they didn’t. I truly feel for those who believe this is their only option. I think we can also agree that in many circumstances a pregnancy results from irresponsibility. Data shows that less than 1% of abortions are the result of rape or incest. This is why I believe we should advocate for contraception or even abstinence. My personal belief is to exercise one’s right of choice in the bedroom, or just wait until marriage and have a plan. I shouldn’t have had to suffer because of my parents’ irresponsibility. I shouldn’t be dead because of it either.

Those of us who are pro-life (at least speaking for myself) have no interest in making decisions for women, but we want to advocate for the unborn. In cases where a mother’s health is at risk, I totally get the need to make the difficult decision. A friend of mine who lacked healthcare at the time was facing death because of a pregnancy, so an abortion, in her case, saved her life. I’ve also read about non-viable fetuses remaining in the womb to the mother’s detriment. Yes, in those cases, it isn’t abortion per se, but an evacuation of the womb. Perhaps what would help is to redefine such things in these cases. The term “abortion” is stigmatized, and there’s really more to it in some cases than just terminating life.

When a woman finds herself pregnant, child support should begin then. The father is often not factored into this discussion. He should step up and be responsible for caring for her and the unborn child. She shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of all of the responsibility. I was irresponsible as a teenager myself, and when I learned that I was going to become a father, I wanted to do everything I could for my girlfriend (now my wife of over 20 years) and unborn baby. That baby is 20 years old, and one of the most special people in my life. I am fortunate, but not everyone shares my circumstances, which is why those less fortunate need greater help.

Shalom

A Second Chance in the Land

“Maintain justice,” God commands (Is. 56:1; cf. 61:8). Not only had idolatry been a problem for Judah, but perverted justice had too: 

O LORD, how long shall I cry, and you will not hear? Even cry out “Violence!” And you will not save. Why do you show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds.

(Hab. 1:1–4)

Much of what follows is God explaining justice. The foreigner and eunuch might have otherwise believed themselves excluded (Deut. 23:1–3; cf. Lev. 21:18–20), but God welcomes them and urges the same of his people (Is. 56:3–8). The corrupt rulers of Israel have led many astray, but some have even known to follow the Lord despite the instruction of their leaders (57:1–2). God plans to refuse the idolater (57:11, 13), but if an idolater returns to God, he will accept and heal them (57:15–21). Yet, the one who perverts justice and engages in idolatry presumes that they are still favored because of their worship, but worship will not cover their sins, especially if they exploit others and the holy days (58:3–10, 13–14). This behavior landed them in exile (59:1–4, 14–15), so returning home should accompany repentance (59:20). God wanted his people to be a part of injustice’s solution (59:16).  

Considering all that Judah has done, chapter 60 paints a beautiful picture of God’s forgiveness and restoration. “Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you down, but I have had mercy on you” (60:10). “Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, with no one passing through, I will make you majestic forever, a joy from age to age” (60:15). Isaiah saw a restored Jerusalem as a renewed Jerusalem (60:19–22), and John saw the heavenly Jerusalem as something similar yet better (Rev. 21:9–11, 22–26). 

Either the servant or the prophet announces the good news to rebuild what had been torn down (61:1–4). When Jesus read from Isaiah, he identified himself with this servant (Luke 4:16–21). Rather than rebuilding the city of Zion, he rebuilt the people of God by preaching the good news of the kingdom of God and restoring those to God who had been “exiled” from him despite being in Judea. One of my favorite passages in Isaiah is 61:10 (cf. 62:5), “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Similar imagery of Christ and his bride, the church, appears in Ephesians 5. 

In Churches of Christ, brethren have sometimes erringly taken verses and transposed them for our theology. For example, Isaiah 62:2 has often been used to describe how we came to be called “Christians,” but that wasn’t what Isaiah was speaking about. Just two verses later, the explanation of verse 2 is given, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.”Also, verse 12 adds,  “They shall be called, ‘The Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD’; and you shall be called, ‘Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.’” Just because a verse might suit a preconceived belief doesn’t mean that’s the best way to use that verse. The whole of chapter 62 is to show how God will forgive and bless Judah and Jerusalem, and 63 explains why God punished them and remembered his mercy towards them (v. 11). A prayer of repentance is given in 63:15–64:12. The servants of the Lord will be blessed, but those who rebel will suffer (65:1–16). 

In Isaiah 65:17, a familiar theme arises—new heavens and new earth. This is something that both Peter (2 Peter 3:13) and John (Rev. 21:1) write about too. Isaiah’s new heaven and earth have one significant difference—death remains (65:20). It no longer exists in John’s new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:4). I don’t take Isaiah’s as an end-times (eschatological) reading because death is still present. Everything listed can be read as juxtaposed to exilic suffering, with the former things being that which is written in the preceding verses. Furthermore, the messianic promises have yet to be fulfilled, so this can’t refer to the new creation that is post-resurrection and judgment. As we read chapter 66, God’s worshippers who also engage in pagan rituals and unjust living have their offerings regarded as actual sins (66:3). The end-times new creation doesn’t need sacrifice, nor will there be unrighteousness, as depicted in verse 4 (cf. Rev. 21:8). Finally, Isaiah’s new heavens and earth will be “before” God (66:22), but God will be “in” John’s (Rev. 21:3).  

God’s Plan of Hope

Isaiah 49–55 belongs in the greater narrative of 40–55—post-exilic material. That’s to say, the exile has occurred, and God is speaking to his people about his plans. Israel’s sins have been atoned for, and God has promised his forgiveness and hope to them. However, they’re still coming to grips with Zion’s falling. As God has previously tried to do, he continues to explain that they shouldn’t misunderstand—their sins were the cause (50:1). 

Israel, the servant of the Lord (49:3), is to be a light to the nations going forward. God’s salvation would reach the ends of the earth as they did this (49:6; cf. 42:4, 6). Isaiah wished to comfort the exiles (50:4), reminding them of how he was treated before and how God would vindicate him (50:5–11). The righteous need only to continue being faithful because God will return them to his goal of creation—Eden and the garden (51:1–3). In this case, however, the imagery is applied to a return to Jerusalem. 

Since some were living in a foreign land and under constant worry (51:13), God promised that they wouldn’t go to the grave in Babylon (51:14). For those still in Zion, they too were worried—what had happened? They felt abandoned by God, and in some respect, they were (54:7–8). Yet, a messenger comes to Zion with the news—“Your God reigns” (52:7) and that he will return to Zion (52:8). 

The suffering servant in Isaiah 52:13–53:12 was Israel and is the final of several servant songs throughout Isaiah (42:1–9; 49:1–7; 50:4–11). Israel, the servant, was severely wounded, but his resurgence would astonish the nations (52:14–53:1). Israel grew from Jacob as a young nation—nothing overtly special about his appearance. Very common indeed (52:2–3). What Israel suffered through conquering and exile made it seem as if God rejected him, and his wounds were for the transgressions and iniquities of the people (53:4–5). Everyone was guilty of this sin (53:6). His suffering was God’s way of restoring all people to himself, and the servant’s grief led to his exaltation. The early church saw in this passage the suffering of Jesus (Acts 8:32–35). Did they misappropriate the passage? Certainly not. Jesus was the embodiment of Israel (Matt. 2:13–15).  

God promises an eternal covenant of peace with Israel (ch. 54), and he invites them all to himself in a state of repentance (55:6–7). When Israel looks at how she’d treat others, they may think that an eye for an eye is the method for those who’ve wronged them. However, God’s ways are far different (55:8–9). Unlike a mortal man, he does not regard others as humans would. This was his promise, and because he has given his word, it would not return empty but come to pass (55:11). 

A Conquered Judah in Babylon

Jerusalem lies in rubbles. Many inhabitants have been carted off to Babylon, especially those of the aristocratic (e.g., Daniel) and priestly (e.g., Ezekiel) lineages. The exiles weep about their homeland in a foreign land (Ps. 137). Those remaining in Jerusalem receive a word from the Lord (Is. 40:2) given 150 years earlier, looking to this very moment. Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of King Josiah and was contemporary with Jeremiah, who prophesied in the decades leading up to the siege of Jerusalem by Babylon. If you were to read Scripture chronologically, you could insert Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah between chapters 39–40 of Isaiah. Yet, in Isaiah, a 150-year leap is made to those who’ve witnessed the city’s destruction. 

They’re wondering, “Now what?” The worst has happened. What they’ve dreaded has occurred. No Davidic king occupies the throne. Those who remain will suffer heavy taxation, foreign occupation, and rule. They will also live with the trauma of seeing Jerusalem fall and the changes that follow. They feel abandoned by God (40:6–8, 27), but he assures them that they are redeemed (43:1, 25; 44:22–23). God was abandoned by them first (cf. 42:24–25). What’s odd is how God’s people often feel neglected, seldom examining whether or not they had ignored him previously. Israel had continued worshipping God, which cannot be a metric (1:11–15). 

Nevertheless, the cry anticipates God’s return (40:3–5) as a tender king (40:9–11). God reassures Israel that though their present circumstances might seem contrary to the idea, they are still his people, his servant (41:8–10; 42:1–4). As God’s servant Israel needed to worship God (43:22–24) and not idols (44:9–11). Though they have suffered by other nations, whom God allowed doing so to punish their sins, those nations won’t get off easy for their wickedness (41:11–13; 43:14). 

Since God used Assyria to chastise Israel and Babylon Judah, God will use Persia to restore Judah (44:24–45:7). He had previously referred to Assyria as his ax to cull the forest of the nations and Israel. Still, the ax would break—denoting the end of Assyria, which happened at the hands of the Babylonians. Jeremiah had described Nebuchadnezzar as God’s servant (Jer. 25–26). Isaiah refers to Cyrus as God’s shepherd (Is. 44:28) and messiah (45:1). Judahites in Babylon don’t respond positively to a foreign king being their messiah and not a son of David (45:9–13; 46:8–13). On the one hand, they want deliverance from Babylon, but they don’t like how God will bring it.

Babylon sees herself as God (47:7–8). Israel isn’t much better because God’s faithfulness and grace do not alter Israel’s mood (48:1–15). God finally declares that they should have kept his command, and they would have enjoyed peace (48:18). Unfortunately, Israel has consistently been deaf and blind. It has led them to captivity and ruin, and persisting in it will not bring them the peace God promises. 

Isaiah? Deutero-Isaiah? Trito-Isaiah? Who Authored Isaiah?

Few scholars hold the traditional view that Isaiah wrote the entire book. The majority acknowledges that the prophet wrote chapters 1–39, and from there, disagreement exists as to how many other authors or sections make up the book. Chapters 40–66 are often agreed to have had one or more authors. The language of chapters 40–55 reads like after the exile, and the remaining chapters read like returning from exile. These two sections are respectively referred to as Deutero-Isaiah and Trito-Isaiah. Some believe there are two divisions, while others hypothesize there are more than three divisions. Indeed, authorship would not have been a concern to earlier audiences, and it’s only a topic due to a scientific method of interpreting literary texts alike—a combination of higher and lower criticism. Scripture, therefore, is reduced to academic work and not as highly esteemed as divinely inspired. 

As far back as 1100 CE, Moses ben Samuel denied Isaiah was the author of specific chapters. A few years later, Ibn Ezra (ca. 1167) questioned certain sections as being from the hand of Isaiah. Finally, in the 18th century, Johann Doerderlein suggested that Isaiah could not have foreseen the fall of Jerusalem, the 70-year captivity, the return, or the Persian king, Cyrus. Since his thesis, scholarship has advanced in supporting dual or multiple authorship. This is readily accepted in academic circles and in some churches too. 

From chapters thirty-nine to forty, we skip ahead about 150 years. The opening passages of chapter forty suggest Israel’s sins have been paid for and that they need to be comforted (40:1–2). When we left off in chapter thirty-nine, Hezekiah had survived the Assyrian assault and sickness that threatened to take his life. Isaiah told him that Jerusalem’s destruction would not happen in his lifetime, concluding eighth-century Isaiah. Jerusalem fell in 586 BCE, and exiles returned after 538 BCE. Isaiah 42:24–25 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem as a past event, but this isn’t altogether a reason to believe in multi-authored Isaiah. The early chapters of Isaiah speak of things as both present and past—especially the first five chapters, which are not wholly chronological. However, Isaiah 43:14 reads as if the Jews were in Babylon, and Cyrus is explicitly named in 44:28. When we arrive at Isaiah 66:20, the second temple is under construction. The language of multiple timelines is a big reason for the thesis when placed alongside the other mentioned details. Plus, after chapter thirty-nine, Isaiah isn’t mentioned again. 

The belief in multiple authors has some merit, but it denies the prophet’s ability to speak about and predict future events. The German schools of biblical studies rely heavily on this scientific method of interpretation, contributing to scholarship significantly. Still, it depends upon naturalism without leaving room for divine inspiration or the miraculous. This was, in part, a result of David Hume’s Enlightenment philosophy which grew from Newtonian reasoning. He believed that a miracle was a violation of the laws of nature, as he so wrote in Of Miracles in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, so they simply did not exist. This would remove the ability of a prophet of God to be moved by God’s Spirit to talk about future events with the voice of God, thus limiting God. Hume would write, “It is experience only, which gives authority to human testimony; and it is the same experiences, which assures us of the laws of nature.” Because he and most of his peers never “experienced” such a phenomenon, the divine is reduced to naturalism. Philosopher Peter Kreeft observed, “In fact, all the essential and distinctive elements of Christianity are miracles: creation, revelation (first to the Jews), the giving of law, prophecies, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Second Coming and Last Judgment.” 

The cases of multiple authors can be convincing, but I hold to the traditional view that Isaiah is the primary source of the book bearing his name (cf. John 12:37–38; Is. 53:1). The oldest extant copy of Isaiah dates to 175 BCE and is a single scroll without any notes from copyists about a shift from chapters 39–40. Archaeologists found twenty-one copies of Isaiah among the Dead Sea Scrolls and six manuscripts of commentaries on Isaiah. Isaiah has also been referenced as the only author of the book. It is the most quoted book in the New Testament, with Isaiah as only ever cited as the author and the quotes attributed to him from the various sections of texts that scholars dispute (cf. Matt. 3:3; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; et al.).  

I agree with John Oswalt, professor of Old Testament at Asbury Seminary, that the entirety of the book was assembled over the years by Isaiah’s disciples from his speeches, remarks, and other verbal communication. Isaiah, therefore, is the source of the entire book, but its compilation was likely the work of disciples. Just a few centuries before Isaiah, we read about schools of prophets (1 Sam. 10:5, 10; 19:20). In the first passage from Samuel, the Targum (Aramaic translation of the Old Testament dating to 516 BCE) uses the phrase “band of students.” In the second passage, Samuel is the leader of the band of prophets. Elijah and Elisha exhibited the disciple-teacher relationship within a prophetic background (2 Kings 2:3). Elisha served Elijah (2 Kings 3:11) and was anointed by him (1 Kings 19:16). Isaiah and his disciples and learned ones may be another example of this relationship (Is. 8:16; 50:4). Given the notion of destruction and exile in the earlier chapters of Isaiah, it makes sense that he would have spoken to future generations. Later, his disciples may have redacted portions of his speeches and writings to fit the times, which scribes often did (compare Gen. 14:14 to Judg. 18:12). We also can’t discount the usage of dictation to scribes, which biblical authors often employed (cf. Jer. 36:4; Rom. 16:22), when accounting for variations in syntax. 

The matter isn’t a hill to die on but another perspective to the recently formed (18th century) and common thesis. Some might contend that the evidence of Cyrus’ name is compelling, but the name may have been inserted by later scribes based on the description provided. The same may be said of other portions that lead readers to conclude multiple authors regarding Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah. Scribes could have changed the language to show the fulfillment of specific prophecies. We don’t know. The only copies we have are from the second century BCE and later, and a study published in 2021 concluded that two scribes wrote the Great Isaiah Scroll. The final form of Isaiah may have emerged in the post-exilic period. Still, it doesn’t mean another version may have predated what we have that’s original to the eighth-century prophet. 

King Hezekiah’s Reign

Isaiah has been building up to the reign of a righteous king (cf. 32:1; 33:16), and in chapter 36, we finally arrive at the reign of Hezekiah. Isaiah and Hezekiah witnessed the northern kingdom fall to the Assyrians. Now, the Assyrians are at the backdoor of the Judahites—taking the fortified cities (36:1) because Hezekiah had rebelled against them (2 Kings 18:7–8). Hezekiah panics and offers to pay tribute to stop the siege—his father, Ahaz, having aligned with the Assyrians, Hezekiah wanted to only trust in God. Sennacherib names his price, but it doesn’t stop there (2 Kings 18:14–16). When Sennacherib sends a message, the scene is similar to Isaiah’s prophecy in 31:1–9. It’s a folly to trust in Egypt, which Israel tried to do under King Hoshea (2 Kings 17:1–4; cf. 36:4–6). Egypt couldn’t stop the Assyrian conquering of Israel, so Judah and Jerusalem had best not even entertain the idea. God, however, has promised to deliver Jerusalem. 

Rabshakeh (a royal title meaning “chief of the officers”), Sennacherib’s mouthpiece, derides any talk of Hezekiah trusting in his God (36:13–20). They believe that Hezekiah has offended God (36:7; cf. 2 Kings 18:3–6) and that YHWH sent the Assyrians to punish him (36:10). Given his language usage, Rabshakeh may have been privy to Judah’s internal affairs (compare 36:6 with 10:5–6). Nevertheless, his words so upset Judah’s high officials that they tear their clothes and tell Hezekiah what was said, and he, in turn, rips his clothes and adorns himself with sackcloth (36:22–37:1). What else is a king to do but inquire of God’s prophet (37:2)? 

God’s message to Hezekiah is, “Don’t worry about what’s being said because I will distract him” (37:6–7). Rabshakeh is still so focused on Judah and Jerusalem even while Sennacherib moved on to war against others, so he was sure to try to keep them in fear (37:10–13). Hezekiah doesn’t dwell on the message. He doesn’t get unraveled by it. Instead, he takes it to God and prays (37:14–20). Isaiah delivers God’s reply to Rabshakeh’s message to Hezekiah, and the word is that Assyria will not succeed in their endeavor to take Jerusalem. Before any of this ever came to be, God promised to break Assyria (14:24–25), and he does so (37:36–38). The Assyrian threat has subsided, and Sennacherib has died at the hands of his sons.  

Having prayed for deliverance from the Assyrians, Hezekiah now prays for deliverance from death (38:1–3). God grants his request and sets his reign distinct from his father, Ahaz’s (38:8). Ahaz had been subject to Assyria, resulting in hefty tributes and Assyrian gods introduced into the temple. Hezekiah had torn down all such altars and shrines, the very thing Rabshakeh believed offended God (36:7) was something that pleased him. Hezekiah recovered from his illness, but the Babylonians would learn of this and send messengers with a letter. Hezekiah would show them all the riches of his dominion (39:1–2). Isaiah’s reply to Hezekiah’s actions is matter-of-fact (39:3–7). Hezekiah’s reply to that seems even odder (39:8), but some linguists suggest that the king accepts God’s judgment and then, under his breath, mutters or thinks the last line. The Chronicler, however, reads the scene differently (2 Chron. 32:24–31). Hezekiah had become proud but then humbled himself to God. Hezekiah knew Judah would fall, but not during his reign.

God’s Judgment of Judah and Jerusalem

Many commentaries equate God’s intentions in Isaiah for the earth with the end-times (Is. 24:1–3) since he had previously pronounced judgment against the world for sinfulness (13:5, 9, 11). However, the language of 24:5 is reminiscent of the Noahic covenant (Gen. 9:16; cf. 6:5). Several references to “the land” also lead us to think about Judah and Jerusalem (Is. 26:1)—“the land” is a reference to them (24:3, 13, 23). The same can be said of “this mountain” referring to Zion (25:6–7, 10). Judah here appears as a microcosm of the world. A great responsibility is placed on God’s elect. We were meant to have been royal priests from the garden, maintaining sacred space. Instead, God made his dwelling place among Israel, which shrunk to Judah and Jerusalem. Now that they have sinned, the world God envisioned has become smaller and smaller—sacred spaces now being corrupt. The leaders of Judah have sinned (28:7–8, 14–15) and Jerusalem (29:1–8). Jerusalem, however, pretends piety when God knows differently (29:13). 

As Ahaz trusted Assyria for his relief, they trusted Egypt (30:1–3; 31:1–3). Contrasted to those who trust Egypt are those who trust God (30:18–26). God’s people in Judah and Jerusalem are divided—some trust in earthly powers while others trust in God. Those spoken against tend to be the elite, as shown here. The simple folks are those who look to God. They have no standing among the elite, so the day of judgment is to them a day of reckoning (29:18–20). If there’s one thing we must all learn, the “experts” aren’t always right. They could defer to them as religious leaders when they thought of priests and prophets. Yet, God spoke against them for their drunkenness. Similarly, it may not be wine on which folks are drunk today, but on power, influence, or complacency (32:9–15). 

Hope is available (26:3–6). Finally, the chief cornerstone of 28:16–17 resembles the restored city of 1:26 and looks to a new faithful community. This stone is a precious cornerstone to many, but to others, a snare (28:13). God also promises to deliver Jerusalem (31:4–9), foreshadowing when they will attempt to siege Jerusalem in 701 BCE. A reign of righteousness is upon Jerusalem (32:1–8; 33:17–24), and this applies not only to Hezekiah but also to Jesus. Jesus often identified himself with figures from the Old Testament: 

  • Jonah (Matt. 12:39)
  • Solomon (Matt. 12:42)
  • The Temple (John 2:19)
  • The brazen serpent (John 3:14)

Peter described Noah and his family’s salvation through the water as a type of baptism, while Paul said Adam was a type of Christ. 5:14). So we may be safe in saying that Hezekiah was also a type of Christ, for the most part. He was one of the final faithful as Jesus. Here are similarities between Hezekiah and Jesus:

  • Hezekiah cleanses the temple (2 Chron. 9:1, 5, 15–16)
  • Hezekiah restores Jewish fidelity to God (2 Chron. 30:6–13, 26–27)
  • He prays for sinful Israelites (2 Chron. 30:18–20)
  • Hezekiah’s reign was faithful to God (2 Kings 18:1–7)
  • Hezekiah’s healing after being told he would die was three days, just as Christ rose from the grave on the third day (2 Kings 20:1–6)  

In Hezekiah’s days, Zion would be a city of glory (35:1–10), and the Lord’s glory in Christ would also occupy it. Jesus’s ministry on earth would resemble Hezekiah’s reign, but to a greater degree.

The Fall of Judah’s Neighbors

God is called “LORD of hosts” over 200 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, over 60 times appearing in Isaiah. “Hosts” can be understood as a significant number or an army. The notion of an army seems to be more plausible (cf. 2 Kings 6:15–17) because by the time we arrive at chapters 13–23, where God pronounces judgment, the language is interesting when we follow it. God calls his “holy ones” and “mighty ones” (13:3). God musters these for battle, coming from the end of heaven (13:4). Earlier in chapter 6, we saw an assembling of the heavenly court, God, with the seraphim. There’s one similar passage to Isaiah 6, and that’s 1 Kings 22:19–21. In both of these passages, God is seated on a throne, he asks for a volunteer, the court has a verbal exchange, a volunteer announces himself, and the mission is to deceive God’s people who have angered him with their sinfulness. 

A heavenly court is attested to not only in the passages mentioned and in Job 1:6–11; 2:1–6; Zechariah 3:1–5. Isaiah 6:10 seems like a problematic passage when God commissions the prophet to dupe the people essentially. However, when taken with the passage from 1 Kings 22 and Ezekiel 14:4–5, it makes sense that God would answer them according to their heart’s desire (cf. Is. 19:14). Against whom, then, will this heavenly army war? Other hosts of heaven were assigned to oversee the nations, but some became rebellious and received worship as gods (Deut. 32:8 [LXX], 17; Ps. 96:5; Dan. 10). The battle of the faithful and rebellious hosts ensue with the results being mirrored on earth—sometimes the angels fighting against the physical enemy. Divine warfare is a motif in Exodus. Each plague corresponds to YHWH attacking one of Egypt’s gods: e.g., the first plague is directed at Ḥapi, the Nile-god; the second at Ḥeqet, the frog goddess; the fifth at Apis, the bull and Hathor, the cow; the eighth, ninth, and tenth plagues at Ra. 

Angels minister to those who are to obtain salvation (Heb. 1:14), so it would stand that they would offer protection of the righteous one (Ps. 91:2, 11–12). A common belief was that earthly rulers mirrored the actions of the divine beings, so when the king of Babylon is spoken against, later believers associated some of the jargon used of him with Satan (Is. 14:12–15). Lucifer, meaning “Day Star,” is plausible as usage for Satan, given other passages about stars and their link with angels (Job. 38:7; Rev. 12:3–4). 

By the time we arrive at Ahaz’s death—anywhere between 715–725 BCE—Philistia is urged to not rejoice at the transition of monarchs. Ahaz had agreed to Assyrian domination, but that would change upon the end of his reign and the beginning of Hezekiah’s. Hezekiah changed allegiance to Egypt and led a rebellion against the Assyrian king. Isaiah 14:29 seems to refer to Ahaz as a serpent, and a viper comes from him like a seraph. Hezekiah, we will learn, subdued the Philistines (2 Kings 18:8), and did much good for Judah and Jerusalem as the rest of Isaiah’s oracle points out (14:30–32; cf. 2 Kings 18:6–7).  

The remaining oracles are poems of promised judgment against evildoer nations. God judges Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria and Israel, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Jerusalem. Yet, God gives a couple of rays of hope. First, he will have mercy on Jacob and settle Israel in their land (14:1–2). Second, God will set one on David’s throne to judge with justice (16:5). Judgment sounds harsh, but God will give grace too. 

Isaiah Goes to Ahaz

In the final years of his life, while a leper in seclusion, Uzziah’s son reigned with him. Yet, the reign of Jotham doesn’t figure prominently into Isaiah’s ministry. Since the prophets often presided during times of crises, Jotham’s reign did not need prophetic intervention. Yet, things changed when Ahaz became king. By the time of the events of chapter seven, Israel has allied with Syria to make war against Jerusalem. The king of Assyria had chipped away at Israel’s territories (2 Kings 15:29), so the weakened kingdom believed an alliance with Syria was necessary. When Israel and Syria go against Jerusalem, Ahaz requested the help of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7–8) thus demonstrating a lack of faith (cf. Is. 7:4–9). The goal of Israel and Syria was to install a puppet king over Judah (Is. 7:7), but God didn’t allow it.  

Isaiah urged the king to ask for a sign, but he refused to do so. God, nevertheless, gave Ahaz a sign to reinforce the promises previously made about the Davidic line. A young woman would bear a child and call him “Immanuel” (God with us) thus confirming that God was keeping his promises. When Isaiah gave this sign by the Lord, I’m sure he did not have the future messiah in mind. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be understood that way, which I’ll get to shortly. There are four possible ways to understand the sign as they understood it. 

  1. King Hezekiah was the promised son. This is a very popular interpretation and some conclude that Hezekiah is referred to in 8:8. Furthermore, the description of the government in chapter nine seems fitting to Hezekiah in the immediate context, especially when read with chapters 36–39. I favor Hezekiah as the fulfillment of the prophecy, but I also hold that the next option is viable.   
  2. Others contend that this is Isaiah’s son mentioned in 8:1–4, whose name means “Speed the Spoil, Hasten the Prey.” He is referred to as a sign (Is. 8:18) and that argument could be made that 8:8 references him, but Isaiah and his wife already have a child (7:3). The son mentioned in 8:1–4 seems to be a sign to Isaiah while Immanuel was a sign to Ahaz.  
  3. Another interpretation is that it refers to an unknown woman fulfilling the promise, but if she were unknown they wouldn’t be aware of the sign when it came to pass. This is viable but highly unlikely. 
  4. Some believe Jesus is the only fulfillment of this prophecy, but that wouldn’t have brought comfort to Ahaz if something far off was meant. Jesus is a fulfillment of this prophecy on the macro level, but not on the micro level. The Hebrew term could mean a virgin, but more often it was a young woman. Matthew borrowed from the Septuagint which, in the place of almah is the specific term parthenos (“virgin”).  

Hezekiah, I contend, is the micro fulfillment of this prophecy, but Jesus is the macro fulfillment of the prophecy. The sign is about God saving his people, and he saved Judah and Jerusalem through Hezekiah. However, Judah and Jerusalem would continue in their infidelity, which necessitated God’s judgment and his ultimate savior of his people and all humanity—Jesus. 

The prophecy can be viewed as a type/antitype sort of thing, such as we see in 1 Peter 3:20–21. As Noah and his family boarded the ark, they were saved by being on it when water came. When we board the ark that is Jesus, through baptism, we too are saved. Similarly, Hezekiah was righteous and brought about God’s will, and Jesus is the one who has perfectly brought the will of God. The micro interpretation has to do with the immediate context of the author and their audience. The macro is the whole redemptive story of creation, so there’s an immediate and greater meaning to the text. The prophet gave us immediate meaning, and the Holy Spirit gave the church greater meaning. This is how Matthew used the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures—Jesus was the embodiment of Israel. 

God promised to punish Samaria (Israel) and Assyria, and that a remnant of Israel would return. Assyria is depicted as an ax in God’s hands to reduce Israel to briers and thorns (9:19), but in using the ax, it would break and be reduced to briers and thorns (10:17; cf. 10:34). Deforestation of Israel appears in 9:8–10:4, and out of this deforestation is a rod from the stem of Jesse (11:1). It’s very easy to read this chapter as messianic because so much applies. After Judah successfully defended herself, a new age of government and peace is expected. The predatory and preying animals dwelling together in harmony is a way of communicating peace among nations, given the language used about them (cf. 5:29; 9:12, 20–21; 10:14), and through Christ, the nations have ceased warring in that people have become Christians and identify as such rather than as the nations from which they hail. It’s easy to see Jesus in this passage (cf. 6:13) and I’m willing to accept this passage as a future hope, albeit one that’s distant.  

The Circumstances of Isaiah’s Ministry

We’ve all seen shows that aren’t in chronological order. My wife and I have gotten into “Better Call Saul.” Sometimes, the beginning of each episode shows what happens after the main premise of the show. At other times, the beginning is a flashback to before the main premise. Isaiah is kind of like that. The prophet’s ministry begins in Isaiah 6, but the first five chapters set the stage by laying out the circumstances that precipitated his ministry. The fact is, these first five chapters should not be read as chronological, because they aren’t. Scholars don’t agree about the structure, though many theories exist. For our purposes, we’ll treat these chapters as introductory despite how disjointed they seem. 

The structure of the early chapters is one of the puzzles of the book, but may be laid out as follows: 

  • Isaiah 1: wickedness of Judah and Jerusalem.
  • Isaiah 2:1–4: the hope of a renewed Jerusalem. 
  • Isaiah 2:5–4:1: judgment on the oppressors. 
  • Isaiah 4:2–6: the renewal of Zion. 
  • Isaiah 5: God’s disappointing people. 

Starting out, we get a glimpse of not only Jerusalem’s future, but it’s spoken of as if it’s in the past. Notice the language of the first chapter: “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire … Zion is left as a … besieged city” (1:7–8). Leading up to this is the point—Judah and Jerusalem have rebelled (1:2). They are referred to as “rulers of Sodom” and “people of Gomorrah” (1:10; cf. 3:9). Whether or not Isaiah wrote some portions with hindsight (cf. 5:13) is debatable. Some have suggested that it was written in hindsight, others that it’s some literary device common at the time. Because of the disjointed nature of these chapters, it may be better to just appreciate it as is, noting when the tone shifts. 

The sins of Judah and Jerusalem are the key themes, and God’s judgment will come. The righteous will be spared the oncoming trouble despite how distant it was (4:3–4). The wicked would still worship, much to the chagrin of God (1:11–15). God doesn’t always want worship, especially when it doesn’t match our character. What he wants is our whole hearts (1:16–17; 21–23, 27). For this reason, he calls for justice and righteousness. He saw a lack of them in Judah (5:7, 20). 

When we read these terms, especially “justice,” we mustn’t think in terms of modern parlance. Anything and everything is a matter of justice—environmental justice, social justice, gender justice, etc. Justice is justice, and any modifier tells one that it’s more a group’s desire than actual justice. Mišpāṭ (“justice”) refers to government, the exercise of authority, and decision-making. It’s paired with ṣědāqâ (“righteousness”) because when justice is perverted, the right thing isn’t done in relation to other people. Righteousness here must be understood as relational and not as personal holiness—at least not in this context. These two words suggest “the faithful exercise of power in community.”

The powerful of Judah and Jerusalem had a duty to look after those less fortunate, but that wasn’t happening (1:23; 3:13–26). Orphans and widows weren’t being treated fairly (1:17, 23). Foreign ways infiltrated God’s people (2:6), and they trusted more in instruments of warfare than God (2:7). When Israel was suffering under the Egyptian yoke, they cried out to God (Exod. 3:7, 9). Now, in Isaiah’s day, they cry out to God against their countrymen (Is. 5:7). Judah and Jerusalem are Egyptian oppressors now. This is the language used here. 

Yet, a future hope remains (2:2–4). Early Christians understood these verses to refer to the incarnation (“latter days”) and subsequent birth of the church. The Lord’s house was often a metaphor for the church (1 Tim. 3:15), and those who went to the mountain of the Lord in Jerusalem also went from there preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. Acts follows this geographical route—beginning in Jerusalem, then Samaria, and to the ends of the world. Rather than being warring nations, we are brothers and sisters who’ve laid down our arms. As Christians, we are a nation (1 Peter 2:9). The nations of the world still war, but God’s nation does not. The long sought reality was the hope of Israel, and our story as the church is the fulfillment and continuation of God’s love of his people whom he set apart to be lights to the world.  

Isaiah’s Call

What does it mean to see God? We know that no one has seen God because the gospel tells us this (John 1:18; 6:46). Isaiah didn’t see God so much as his glory (John 12:41), but what he saw in this vision was life changing. Some may wonder why this isn’t the first chapter of the book. After all, the calling of a prophet should precede his message. The greater part of the first five chapters are poetry, setting the conditions that spurred God’s employment of Isaiah. There’s a literary genius to the structure, but we’ll not delve into literary criticism. Not only did Isaiah’s life change, but the makeup of Judah did too.   

There’s a particular irony in Isaiah’s calling. He was given a vision of heaven’s court in the year King Uzziah died (6:1; 740 BCE). The irony is that King Uzziah was banned from the temple—a shadow of a heavenly reality (cf. Heb. 9:11–12, 23)—after he presumptuously entered to burn incense on the altar of incense—something only a priest could do. This specific altar was outside the holy of holies, and as close as one could get to the literal presence of YHWH. Uzziah was subsequently struck with leprosy and lived the rest of his life as a leper, banned from the temple. During his isolation, his son served as coregent, overseeing the affairs of the kingdom (2 Chron. 26:16–21). While the king was prohibited from the temple, Isaiah sees something greater than the temple—he sees God in heaven. This scene expresses the changing of an era. An age of stability has ended, and the ensuing problem of the Assyrian threat began. 

What Isaiah saw was the actual temple—doorposts, smoke, altar, and burning coals. Yet, it’s the heavenly temple and not the one at which he worshipped in Jerusalem. The year of Judah’s king dying, Isaiah sees the king of heaven—seated on a throne, high and lifted up. He’s not in a palace, but a temple (v. 1). The reminder is that YHWH still reigns and is in control no matter who reigns and wars on earth. Isaiah seeing God as reigning, surrounded by hosts, was to reinforce to the prophet and Judah that despite threats on earth, God wars in the heavenly places against those evil forces (cf. Eph. 6:12). 

Isaiah, next, sees seraphim. This is the only place they are mentioned, but elsewhere, the term is used in reference to serpents and their venom (Num. 21:4–9). The conclusion has been made by some that these angels were winged serpents of some sort. The Nehushtan was destroyed during Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18:4) and may have very well occupied space in the temple when Isaiah received his commission. Next is the trisagion chanted by the angels—it is antiphonal and causes the foundations to shake. This reminds me of a passing car whose bass is so loud that your car or windows rattle. Such is the nature of their voices and praise. YHWH is one of the “hosts.” Other passages attest to God being surrounded by multitudes (cf. Deut. 32:8 [LXX]; Job 1:6–11; 2:1–6; Ps. 82; 1 Kings 22:19–23; Ezek. 14:4–5), but this might be better rendered “armies.” Isaiah would have understood it that way, and in the coming struggles with the Assyrians, it would have been significant (Is. 13:4; 24:21; 31:4). 

Imagine for a moment seeing the most august scene ever. There’s the majesty of God, flanked by fiery angels from whose wings you can feel the breeze. They continually chant this chorus with such beauty that it sends chills down your spine. At the same time, their voices are so rich and powerful that the foundations quake. Not only do the words of their chorus strike you, but the performance of them is something you feel pierce your very being. Smoke engulfs the area, and it reminds you of what you’ve heard your ancestors saw in Sinai many centuries ago. The effect is terror. You pause from the awe of taking it in to the realization of where you are and what you’re like, and who you’re before. 

‘Woe is me; I am  lost!” Why does he feel so? The ending of the passage tells us why, but not so much in English as in Hebrew. “The king, the LORD of hosts, my eyes have seen.” It’s vital to note here that the term used of Uzziah is the same used of God—hammelek. The death of the king threatens stability, but God is all the stability that Judah needs. Isaiah appears before God in a state of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips. In our present existences, no one can see God and live (Exod. 33:18–20; cf. Gen. 32:30; Judg. 6:22). This was what frightened Isaiah. He assumed the sins of the people as well as his own and believed there was no way to survive this. However, the very God whose holiness can consume the profane (cf. Lev. 10:1–2; 2 Sam. 6:6–7), can also cleanse. In similar temple imagery, one of the seraphim takes burning coal to cleanse the prophet, atoning for his sin. Isaiah need not fear. He is cleansed. He can remain. 

Isaiah’s commission began with seeing God. Now, it turns to hear him. Isaiah readily accepts God’s commission, but the message he is to deliver will fall on deaf ears. The wonders that he’ll work will be seen by blind eyes. The hearts of the people are already turned against God, and Isaiah’s ministry will be unsuccessful in terms of people responding positively to it. When the prophet inquires how long this will last, we see that God has decided to judge Judah. It’s going to last until judgment comes. Why bother? God bothers because he cares. He bothers because he wants them to know that they have heaped up judgment on themselves, not only through Isaiah’s ministry, but even through all those who’ve come before him. Success here isn’t defined by how many people respond to the prophetic call, but how faithful the prophet is to God in delivering the message. Fidelity to God—that’s success. 

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