Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

General Editor for the Old Testament:—








professor of old testament exegesis in the presbyterian college, london.




[All Rights reserved.]


by the


The present General Editor for the Old Testament in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges desires to say that, in accordance with the policy of his predecessor the Bishop of Worcester, he does not hold himself responsible for the particular interpretations adopted or for the opinions expressed by the editors of the several Books, nor has he endeavoured to bring them into agreement with one another. It is inevitable that there should be differences of opinion in regard to many questions of criticism and interpretation, and it seems best that these differences should find free expression in different volumes. He has endeavoured to secure, as far as possible, that the general scope and character of the series should be observed, and that views which have a reasonable claim to consideration should not be ignored, but he has felt it best that the final responsibility should, in general, rest with the individual contributors.



August, 1896.


General Introduction

Chapter  I.  Israel and Assyria in the time of Isaiah

Chapter  II.  The Life and Prophetic Activity of Isaiah

Chapter  III.  Isaiah’s Prophetic Conceptions

Chapter  IV.  The Character and Genius of Isaiah

Chapter  V.  Probable Composition of the Book of Isaiah—Contents of Ch. 1–39

Note on the Chronology of Isaiah’s Time

Text and Notes


*** The Text adopted in this Edition is that of Dr Scrivener’s Cambridge Paragraph Bible. A few variations from the ordinary Text, chiefly in the spelling of certain words, and in the use of italics, will be noticed. For the principles adopted by Dr Scrivener as regards the printing of the Text see his Introduction to the Paragraph Bible, published by the Cambridge University Press.



Israel and Assyria in the time of Isaiah

Isaiah is the most distinguished of the remarkable group of prophets who enforced the lessons of the Assyrian crisis in the eighth century b.c. His public career, which covers the last 40 years of the century, was nearly co-extensive with the successive reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah; and during the greater part of that period he exercised a commanding political influence in Jerusalem. Of no other prophet can it be said with so much truth that his biography is the history of his time. In the case of his predecessors Amos and Hosea, or of his contemporary Micah, a general knowledge of the internal condition of the country and its foreign relations may suffice for the understanding of their writings; but for any profitable study of the work of Isaiah the indispensable preliminary is a somewhat minute acquaintance with the course of events both at home and abroad. It is all the more necessary that this should be briefly sketched here, because the biblical narrative has been so largely illustrated and supplemented from outside sources, especially through the decipherment of the Assyrian inscriptions.

The great political fact of the time was the westward extension of the Assyrian Empire. This commenced in earnest, after a pause of 40 years, with the accession of Tiglath-pileser III. in 745; and was thenceforward prosecuted by a succession of vigorous monarchs, till it reached its goal in the conquest of Egypt by Esarhaddon (672). It must have been evident to thoughtful observers, even before Isaiah’s entrance on public life, that the independent existence of all the smaller nations of Western Asia was endangered by the steady advance of this new and formidable power. Singly, they were helpless against the solid and disciplined might of Assyria; while at the same time they possessed too little stability of purpose to present a united front to the common enemy. The two Israelitish kingdoms, from their geographical position, ought to have been amongst the last to come into collision with the Assyrian power, and if they had been wise enough to keep aloof from political entanglements they would at least have secured a breathing space in which much might have been accomplished for the furtherance of those moral and religious interests which the prophets had at heart. The short-sighted policy of their rulers, however, involved them in premature and compromising relations with the Assyrian Empire; and in both cases with disastrous results.

Before we proceed to fill in the details of the narrative it is necessary to glance at the condition of the country at the opening of Isaiah’s ministry.

The Age of Uzziah. The death of Uzziah (or Azariah)[1] after a successful reign of about 50 years, marks the close of a singularly brilliant chapter in the history of both North and South Israel. The crippling of Damascus in the Assyrian campaigns of 797 and 773 afforded to the kingdom of Samaria an opportunity of recovering from the long Syrian wars by which its strength had been exhausted. Under the strong rule of Jeroboam II. the bounds of the empire were extended almost to the utmost limits of David’s conquests (2 Kings 14:25; Amos 6:14); and wealth no doubt began to flow in rapidly from the tribute of the subjugated states. Under Uzziah, Judah appears to have been nearly as prosperous. The conquest of Edom and the restoration of the Red Sea port of Elath (2 Kings 14:22) secured the control of the caravan trade with Southern Arabia; and the revenue obtained from this source seems to have been wisely applied to develop the resources of the country and perfect its military efficiency (see 2 Chronicles 26:1-15). The result was that when Isaiah began his public work Judah had attained a degree of wealth, power and civilisation which must have placed it, along with Israel, in the front rank of the petty principalities that now separated Egypt from Assyria. “The land was full of silver and gold and there was no end of its treasures; the land was full of horses and there was no end of their chariots” (Isaiah 2:7).

[1] On the date of his death, see Chronological Note, p. lxxv f.

But this remarkable outburst of material prosperity was attended in both kingdoms by an aggravation of the social evils which seem inseparable from every oriental system of government. The influx of wealth appears to have accelerated certain economic changes, affecting large masses of the population, against which the prophets at all times loudly protested. The spread of debauchery and luxury amongst the upper classes (Isaiah 3:16-23; Isaiah 5:11-12; Isaiah 5:22; Isaiah 28:1-8; Isaiah 32:9 ff.) was a natural consequence of the increased means of enjoyment which came to these classes from the improved position of the country. But still greater evils followed from the accumulation of capital in the hands of a few. The rise of great landed estates (Isaiah 5:8; Micah 2:2; Micah 2:9) meant the expropriation of the old peasant proprietors, who had been the strength of the state, and the creation of a destitute and landless lower class. And if anything were wanting to enhance the indignation of the prophets at this glaring contrast between the extremes of poverty and luxury, it was found in the methods by which it was brought about. The eviction of the smaller land owners was largely effected by systematic abuses of the forms of justice, corrupt judges favouring the suit of the rich man against the poor, in return for a share of the spoils (Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 3:14-15; Isaiah 5:23; Isaiah 10:1-2; Isaiah 29:21). Hence the writings of the prophets abound in denunciations of the injustice and oppression, the avarice and licentiousness which prevailed in the higher ranks of society at this time (see also Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 5:7). And although it may be true that these were permanent features in the life of the Hebrew commonwealth, and would have attracted the attention of the prophets in any period, it cannot be doubted that they were all greatly aggravated by the peculiar social conditions of the age of Uzziah.

In these evidences of national declension and disorder the prophets of the time read the sure premonition of a terrible day of judgment. But their anxiety was not shared by the governing classes either in Samaria or Jerusalem. In both capitals a spirit of optimism and careless security prevailed in political circles (Amos 6:1; Amos 6:13). The strange lull in the conquering career of Assyria which preceded the accession of Tiglath-pileser appears to have fostered the delusion that all danger from that quarter had passed away. About the time when Isaiah appears on the scene, however, events took place which ought to have effectually dispelled that notion. The capture of Arpad (circa 740), and Hamath (738), and the intervention of Pul (Tiglath-pileser) in the reign of Menahem (2 Kings 15:19) brought the danger close to the doors of North Israel. If it be the case, as is held by some Assyriologists, that Uzziah himself, shortly before his death, suffered a defeat at the hands of Tiglath-pileser,[2] the lesson cannot have been altogether lost upon Judah. But no trace of such a disaster is found in the Old Testament; nor do the earliest writings of Isaiah suggest that there was any general uneasiness with regard to the immediate prospects of the country.

[2] In two passages of the annals of Tiglath-pileser, referring apparently to the year 739 or 738, an Azria’u of Ja-udi is mentioned as the leading member of a strong coalition formed for the defence of Hamath. The question that divides Assyriologists is of course whether this prince is identical with Uzziah (Azariah) of Judah, or whether he was the otherwise unknown ruler of a kingdom in North Syria, which is alluded to in other inscriptions. If the former view be correct it can hardly mean less than that Judah was the foremost military power in Western Asia at the time. The arguments on both sides are succinctly given by McCurdy, History Prophecy and the Monuments, pp. 413 f.

The Syro-Ephraimitic War (c. 735). Perhaps the event which first roused the politicians of Jerusalem from their dream of security was an indirect consequence of the forward movement of Assyria. In 735, shortly after Ahaz ascended the throne, a combined attack on Judah was planned by Rezin and Pekah the kings of Syria and Ephraim. The war, indeed, seems to have commenced before the death of Jotham [3] (2 Kings 15:37); but it is clear from Isaiah 7:1-2 that some fresh and startling development followed the accession of Ahaz, causing the utmost consternation in Jerusalem. From all we know of the character of Ahaz he was a man little fitted to cope with a crisis of this a magnitude. In his panic-stricken imagination, the immediate peril overrode all considerations of national honour and political prudence, and he resolved to throw himself on the protection of the king of Assyria. This decision has been defended by some modern historians, as that which would have recommended itself to any statesman in similar circumstances. It is safer to trust the unerring political sagacity of Isaiah, in whose judgment Ahaz at this juncture played the part of a craven. A calmer view of the situation would have convinced the king that the danger was not so great as to justify what was on the face of it a counsel of despair. Nor is it clear that he gained any substantial advantage in return for his tribute and his offer of submission. For although Tiglath-pileser promptly responded to his appeal by ravaging the Northern and Eastern districts of Israel (2 Kings 15:29)[4], this was probably no more than he would have done of his own initiative. He was not likely to permit his feudatories to carry on wars of conquest on their own account, and if Ahaz had but shared the courage and faith of Isaiah, deliverance would have come without the degrading and dangerous conditions implied by the Assyrian suzerainty. (See Introductory Note on ch. 7, p. 49 f.)

[3] Whose independent reign, however, must have been very short. See Chronological Note.

[4] The Assyrian monuments shew that this expedition took place in 734; and this fixes approximately the date of the Syro-Ephraimitic war. The chastisement of Damascus (2 Kings 16:9) took place about two years later.

The Fall of Samaria (c. 721). Judah had thus, by the deliberate act of her sovereign, passed under the hard yoke of the king of Assyria. It was long, however, before the evil consequences of this fatal step became fully apparent. Ahaz appears to have remained steadfast in his allegiance to Tiglath-pileser, and he died (probably in 727[5]) bequeathing the legacy of political servitude and a galling tribute to his son and successor Hezekiah. In 727 Tiglath-pileser was succeeded by Shalmaneser IV. The change of sovereign was the signal for a revolt of several of the recently subjugated provinces in the West, where Egyptian intrigue was now busily fomenting disaffection towards the Assyrian government. There is no evidence that Hezekiah was involved in any treasonable negotiations at this time, although we may be certain that great pressure would be brought to bear on him to join the conspiracy. In Samaria, however, the efforts of the Egyptian party were successful. Hoshea, the last king, opened communications with Sevé[6] of Egypt, and renounced his allegiance to Assyria by withholding the annual tribute. When Shalmaneser advanced against him he seems to have surrendered, but his subjects prepared to defend the capital to the last. After a siege of three years Samaria was captured about 721; and the kingdom of the Ten Tribes was finally incorporated in the Assyrian Empire (2 Kings 17:3-6).

[5] On this disputed date, see again the Chronological Note, p. lxxvi f.

[6] In the Hebrew text pointed so as to read Sô; in Assyrian Sab’é, or Sib’i. He is frequently identified with the Ethiopian king Sabako, supposed at this time to be the over-lord of Egypt. The identification is questioned by some, who take Sab’é to be one of the kings who ruled in Lower Egypt.

Events in the reign of Sargon (722–705). The siege of Samaria, begun by Shalmaneser, was brought to a conclusion under Sargon, who succeeded to the throne in 722. In the first years of his reign, whilst he was occupied with the affairs of Babylon, the still smouldering insurrection in Palestine suddenly assumed such formidable dimensions as to threaten the loss of nearly the whole territory annexed by Tiglath-pileser. But in the year 720 Sargon himself marched westwards, and so effectually crushed all opposition that for nearly ten years he seems to have had no more trouble in that region. He penetrated as far south as Gaza and terminated a successful campaign by defeating the allied Philistine and Egyptian troops in the battle of Raphia, near that city. The event is memorable as the first armed collision of the rival powers of Egypt and Assyria.

Throughout these troubles Judah had maintained an attitude of wise neutrality which is probably in part at least to be attributed to Isaiah’s influence with the court. The first definite indication of the growing restiveness of Judah occurs in an inscription of Sargon relating to the year 711. He speaks of “[the inhabitants] of Philistia, Judah, Edom and Moab who … had to bring tribute and presents to Asshur, my lord” but who now “meditated hostilities and plotted evil, who … sent their tokens of homage to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, a prince who could not save them, and sought an alliance with him[7].” The focus of the conspiracy on this occasion seems to have been the Philistine city of Ashdod, against which Sargon despatched an expedition under the Tartan or commander-in-chief (Isaiah 20:1). With the capture of that city the insurrection collapsed. Hezekiah appears to have withdrawn from the league in time to escape the vengeance of Sargon. The hypothesis of an Assyrian invasion of Judah at this date, at one time adopted by some high authorities as throwing light on certain important prophecies of Isaiah, has never commanded general acceptance, and is now practically abandoned[8].

[7] The embassy of Merodach-baladan (Isaiah 39) probably belongs to this period (c. 713).

[8] Cheyne, who held this view in 1889, has now pronounced against it. The campaign against Ashdod is fully narrated in an inscription of Sargon, who of course takes the whole credit of it to himself, and writes as if he had commanded the army in person. If an invasion of Judah had taken place at this time the silence of the inscription with regard to it would be inexplicable. There is indeed another inscription of Sargon’s, in which he speaks of himself as “the subduer of the land of Judah, whose situation is far distant,” and this has sometimes been appealed to in confirmation of the theory under discussion. But the tablet on which these words occur is now held to be the earliest of all the extant records of Sargon’s reign, and is assigned by Winckler to the year 717. Whatever, therefore, may be the exact meaning of that expression, it certainly cannot be adduced as evidence of an expedition against Judah in the year 711.

Sennacherib’s Invasion (701). We now come to the last and most eventful period of Isaiah’s long ministry. The early years of Sennacherib’s reign (from 705) seemed to the advisers of Hezekiah a favourable opportunity for a determined effort to shake off the supremacy of Assyria. In the year following the accession of Sennacherib, a new monarch succeeded to the crown of the Ethiopian kingdom of Napata. This was the able and enterprising Tirhakah (Egyptian, Taharqa; Assyrian, Tarqu), who ultimately asserted his sway over the whole of the Nile-valley; and vigorously adopted the policy of checkmating Assyria by stirring up disaffection amongst the Assyrian vassal states in Palestine. At the same time Sennacherib had a formidable opponent in Babylon, in the person of the Chaldaean rebel Merodach-baladan, who had already for twelve years defied the power of Sargon, and had been subdued only with great difficulty. Sennacherib was hardly seated on the throne when this doughty champion of Babylonian independence reappeared on the scene, and eventually (before 702) succeeded in establishing himself once more as king of Babylon. It has been very generally supposed that it was at this time that Merodach-baladan sent his embassy to Hezekiah soliciting his cooperation against the king of Assyria. Although this view seems less probable than that which assigns the event to the reign of Sargon (see p. xv), it is certain that the revolt of Babylon seriously embarrassed Sennacherib, and had an important influence on the course of events in Palestine. There is little doubt, at all events, that the Ethiopian embassy, mentioned in ch. 18, was sent by Tirhakah, and falls within this period (between 704 and 701). The temptation proved irresistible. Hezekiah’s scruples were overcome, Isaiah’s remonstrances being overborne by the influence of the Egyptian party in the court, and Judah was definitely committed to rebellion by the conclusion of a treaty with Egypt[9].

[9] A difficult point emerges here on account of our uncertainty as to the precise relations between Tirhakah and Egypt at this time. The question is whether Tirhakah as yet possessed the effective suzerainty over Egypt which he ultimately attained, or whether the kings of Egypt still acted with a certain measure of independence in matters of foreign policy. On the former alternative the alliance with Egypt referred to in ch. 28–31 was really an alliance with Tirhakah, and stands in the closest connexion with the incident of ch. 18. But if the latter be correct, the negotiations with Egypt may have been quite independent of the overtures of Tirhakah. The view followed in this volume is that ch. 28–31 refers to intrigues with the petty princes of the Delta, that it was these kings whom Sennacherib defeated at Eltekeh (see p. xviii), and that the rumour of Tirhakah’s advance (ch. Isaiah 37:9) warned Sennacherib of a conflict with a far more formidable enemy than any he had yet encountered. The precise date of the Ethiopian embassy must therefore remain a matter of uncertainty.

Having once taken the irrevocable step, Hezekiah seems to have acted with great spirit and energy. His chief care was naturally bestowed on the defence of his capital, and we learn from Sennacherib’s inscriptions that with this object he strengthened the garrison of Jerusalem by enlisting a force of Arabs and other mercenaries. A further indication of the leading part he played in the confederacy is furnished by the fact that Padi, the Assyrian vassal-king of Ekron, having been dethroned and imprisoned by his subjects, was sent to Jerusalem for safe custody. The dangerous pre-eminence thus accorded to Judah by the revolted states made a reconciliation with Assyria impossible; and thus while other kings (as those of Ammon, Moab and Edom) escaped by tendering their submission, Hezekiah had to bear the brunt of Sennacherib’s vengeance.

It was not till his third campaign that Sennacherib, having previously “accomplished the destruction of Merodach-baladan,” was able to turn his attention to the state of affairs in the West. The incidents of that famous expedition are recorded with great fulness of detail in no fewer than three practically identical inscriptions of Sennacherib, the best known of which (the so-called “Taylor-Prism”) is translated in the Records of the Past (New Series, vol. VI. pp. 80 ff.). In these official narratives the campaign is divided into four stages: (1) the subjugation of the Phoenician cities, (2) the chastisement of Tsidqa, king of Ashkelon, (3) the operations against Ekron, and (4) the invasion of Judah. The first two of these may here be passed over as not immediately bearing on our subject. The people of Ekron, as we have already seen, had deposed their king Padi, and sent him in chains to Hezekiah. At the approach of the Assyrian king they “feared in their hearts”; but before Sennacherib could proceed to the siege of the city he had to encounter “a force without number” of Egyptians and Arabs which was marching to the relief of Ekron. The engagement took place at Eltekeh (Joshua 19:44; Joshua 21:23); and although Sennacherib claims a decisive victory, it has been pointed out that the record omits the elaborate enumeration of the spoils which usually adorns the accounts of really important victories of Assyrian kings. The Egyptians, however, failed in their main object; Ekron was speedily reduced, and stern punishment was meted out to the ringleaders of the rebellion. In order to complete what he has to say about Ekron the annalist here relates the surrender of Padi by Hezekiah, and his restoration to the throne; but this no doubt slightly anticipates the actual course of events. Next follows the account of the operations against Judah, which may best be given in Sennacherib’s own words. “But Hezekiah of Judah, who had not submitted to my yoke, I besieged 46 of his strong cities, fortresses, and small cities of their environs without number, (and) by casting down their walls (?) … I took them. 200,150 men, young (and) old, male and female, horses, mules, asses, camels, oxen and sheep without number I brought out from them, I counted them as spoil. Himself I shut up like a caged bird in Jerusalem his royal city; the walls I fortified against him (and) whosoever came out of the gates of the city I turned back. His cities, which I had plundered, I divided from his land and gave them to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, to Padi, king of Ekron, and to Tsil-bal, king of Gaza, and (thus) diminished his territory. To the former tribute, paid yearly, I added the tribute of alliance of my lordship and laid that upon him. Hezekiah himself was overwhelmed by the fear of the brightness of my lordship; the Arabians and his other faithful warriors whom as a defence for Jerusalem his royal city he had brought in, fell into fear. With 30 talents of gold (and) 800 talents of silver, precious stones … a heavy treasure and his daughters, his women of the palace, his young men and young women, to Nineveh the city of my lordship, I caused to be brought after me, and he sent his ambassadors to give tribute and to pay homage[10].”

[10] Rec. of the Past, Vol. vi. pp. 90 f. For other translations see Schrader, Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Test. (Engl. Transl. Vol. i. pp. 280 ff.), and Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek, Vol. ii. pp. 95–97.

We must now compare this circumstantial and undoubtedly, in the main, reliable narrative with the corresponding account in 2 Kings 18:13 to 2 Kings 19:37 (cf. Isaiah 36, 37). We are at once struck by their remarkable agreement with regard to certain leading features of the campaign. Both relate (1) the capture of the “fenced cities” of Judah, (2) the investment of Jerusalem by an Assyrian army, (3) the submission of Hezekiah and the exaction of a heavy tribute; and another important point of correspondence is (4) that Sennacherib himself does not claim to have effected the reduction of Jerusalem. But there is one essential difference between the two records: whereas Sennacherib represents Hezekiah’s surrender as the consequence of the siege of Jerusalem, the Hebrew historian places it before the assault on the capital. It is obviously of the utmost importance for the understanding of Isaiah’s work that a satisfactory solution of this discrepancy should be obtained, and a number of widely diverging theories have been propounded with that object. One suggestion is that Sennacherib has purposely falsified the sequence of events in order to give the appearance of success to what was really an abortive attack on Jerusalem[11]. Other critics have supposed that the biblical narrative combines the accounts of two entirely different Assyrian invasions of Judah, one in 701 and another near the close of Sennacherib’s reign[12]. But of this second campaign no independent evidence whatever has been discovered. The most reasonable supposition after all is that Sennacherib’s narrative simply breaks off before reaching the last and most unfortunate stage of the campaign, in other words that the Old Testament parallel to the Assyrian account is found in 2 Kings 18:13-16, while the subsequent narrative of vv. 17 ff. refers to events passed over in silence by the inscription. There is no improbability in the assumption that Jerusalem was twice blockaded in the course of the war, provided a sufficient motive can be assigned for a renewal of hostilities on the part of Sennacherib. Such a motive is readily enough suggested by the situation in which the Assyrian king found himself towards the close of this campaign; and in this way we are led to a conception of the progress of events which, if not altogether free from difficulty, has commended itself to many of the best critics as affording the most satisfactory solution of a somewhat intricate problem.

[11] So Schrader, Cuneiform Inscr. Vol. i. p. 301.

[12] This theory seems to have been first started by the two Rawlinsons. See G. Rawlinson, Five Great Monarchies, Vol. ii. p. 165 (2nd Ed.). In a modified form it is still upheld by Winckler (Geschichte Bab. u. Assyr. p. 254). A similar view, once prevalent, was that 2 Kings 18:13 (14)–16 refers to Sargon’s supposed campaign in 711 and what follows to Sennacherib’s in 701.

We must assume, then, that after the terms of capitulation had been arranged and after the first siege of Jerusalem had been raised, Sennacherib saw reason to change his mind, and to insist on the absolute surrender of the capital. His position at the end of an arduous campaign, and in front of an enemy who might at any time be reinforced from Ethiopia, was becoming daily more critical, and he probably realised that it would be a strategical blunder of the worst kind to leave an important fortress like Jerusalem in the hands of so doubtful a vassal as Hezekiah. It is possible also that Hezekiah, encouraged by the rumour of Tirhakah’s advance, may have been indiscreet enough to exhibit some indication of a hostile disposition. At all events, the steps now taken by Sennacherib reveal at once his eagerness to obtain possession of Jerusalem, and his inability to direct the whole force of his army against it. We are told, indeed, that he sent from Lachish, “a great host” with the Rabshakeh and other officers to demand the surrender of Jerusalem; but it is evident that the display of force was merely a stratagem, and that the Great King relied mainly on the eloquent tongue of his chief minister. The object of the mission, in fact, was in the first instance to intimidate Hezekiah by threats, and failing that to induce the people to rise up against him. But Hezekiah, now acting under Isaiah’s advice, declined to enter into fresh negotiations, and the officers retired baffled to Lachish. A second attempt[13] to play on the fears of Hezekiah by means of a royal letter met with no better success, and Sennacherib was obliged to proceed southwards, leaving Jerusalem still unreduced in his rear.

[13] Unless, indeed, we have here two parallel accounts of a single occurrence. See Introductory Note on ch. 36 f.

The state of matters within the walls of Jerusalem during this crisis will fall to be more fully considered in the next chapter. Here it is enough to say that the resolute attitude of the king was due solely to the lofty faith and courage of Isaiah and his confident and reiterated predictions that the Assyrian should not be permitted to inflict the smallest injury on Jerusalem (ch. Isaiah 37:6-7; Isaiah 21-35). These anticipations were more than realised, when in a single night “the angel of the Lord … smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand” (Isaiah 37:36), and Sennacherib was compelled to return to his own land.[14] The political consequences of this mysterious calamity, as read in the light of our fuller knowledge of Assyrian history, may seem meagre and disappointing. It is now known that Sennacherib survived the catastrophe for 20 years and during that time waged many successful wars. It is certain also that the deliverance did not permanently affect the relations of Judah to the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrian monarchs still exacted their yearly tribute from the kings of Jerusalem and treated them as their subjects. On the other hand it may well be doubted whether Sennacherib was able to enforce the hard conditions which he imposed on Hezekiah at the time of his submission.[15] The very fact that during the 20 remaining years of his reign he never again appeared in Palestine, or renewed the attack on Egypt, is sufficient proof that his policy was permanently altered by the serious disaster which there befel him. But if we measure the crisis by the spiritual interests that were at stake we shall find that it possesses an importance that cannot be over-estimated. Whatever may be uncertain, it is certain that the political existence of Judah was then saved from seemingly inevitable extinction. If Sennacherib had attained his object the people would have been led into captivity (see ch. Isaiah 36:17). Israel would have perished as a nation, and with it the hopes on which the religious future of humanity depended would have been lost. That this result was averted was due to the inspiration which guided Isaiah throughout his life and to the providential interposition which crowned his prophecies with their fulfilment. The events of 701 form, therefore, a fitting close to the public career of the great prophet, who from this time vanishes from the stage of history.

[14] See further on ch. Isaiah 37:36.

[15] See above, p. xviii.


The Life and Prophetic Activity of Isaiah

Of Isaiah’s private life very few details can be gathered from his writings. We know that he grew up to manhood under the brilliant reign of Uzziah, and he must have been still a young man, though probably married, when in the year of that king’s death he received his call to the prophetic office. His name, in Hebrew Yěsh‘yâhû. (“salvation of Jehovah”) appears not to have been an uncommon one in Israel (1 Chronicles 25:3; 1 Chronicles 25:15; 1 Chronicles 26:25; 1 Chronicles 3:21; Ezra 8:7; Ezra 8:19; Nehemiah 11:7), and although to the prophet himself it had a symbolic significance as embodying a cardinal principle of his ministry (ch. Isaiah 8:18), it throws no light on the circumstances of his birth or the religious disposition of his parents. Of his father Amoz nothing further is known. The fancied resemblance of his name to that of the prophet Amos does not exist in the original, and the notion that the younger prophet was the son of the older was only the speculation of some Greek, ignorant of Hebrew orthography. Equally worthless is the Jewish tradition which makes Amoz a brother of king Amaziah, and Isaiah consequently a member of the royal house of Judah. From the fact, however, that Isaiah was intimately acquainted with the ways of the court and had at all times ready access to the presence of the king, as well as from a certain aristocratic loftiness of thought which appears in his writings, we may probably conclude that he belonged to a good family and had enjoyed all the advantages of education and social intercourse that were open to the son of a prominent citizen of Jerusalem. Of the religious influences that moulded his youthful character little can be said. It is possible that a great earthquake in the days of Uzziah (Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5) may have left an ineffaceable impression on his mind and furnished the imagery for his first and most powerful delineation of the great day of Jehovah (ch. Isaiah 2:12 ff.). But Isaiah was not left to interpret the signs of the times by his own unaided reflections. He had “a more sure word of prophecy” in the teaching of his own immediate predecessors Amos and Hosea. Two years before the earthquake Amos had appeared at Bethel with a message of doom which sent a momentary thrill of terror through the whole northern kingdom (Amos 7:10). His work in North Israel was continued by Hosea, whose career preceded that of Isaiah by a very short interval. The influence of both these prophets can be clearly traced in the earlier discourses of Isaiah, and it is reasonable to suppose that before his own call his mind was thus imbued with those great prophetic principles to which he was destined to give such forcible expression.

It was amidst the forebodings naturally suggested by the death of Uzziah that Isaiah became conscious of his prophetic vocation. The statement that he first saw the Lord “in the year that king Uzziah died” has doubtless something more than a mere chronological interest. The aged monarch, who had so well upheld the credit of the State, was either just dead or else in the last stages of leprosy. The recent history of the kingdom of Samaria furnished an ominous warning of the troubles that might follow the removal of a capable ruler at such a time; and it may be that Isaiah had a presentiment that the death of this king would be the prelude to a period of anarchy and confusion such as he afterwards pictured as a feature of the divine judgment on Israel’s sin (ch. Isaiah 3:1 ff.). The significance of the vision of ch. 6 becomes at least somewhat more intelligible to our minds if we regard it as the answer to apprehensions such as these. At a time when his thoughts were occupied with the decease of a sovereign whom he had learned to revere as the embodiment of wise and experienced statesmanship, there was granted to Isaiah a revelation of Him who was the true divine King of Israel; and at the same time he gained a perception of the ultimate issues of Jehovah’s dealings with the nation which enabled him to face the dark and threatening future with confidence and hope.

The spiritual truths impressed on the prophet’s mind by this memorable experience are those which we shall see unfolded with singular clearness and constancy of purpose throughout his whole subsequent ministry. An exposition of these truths in their connexion will be attempted in a subsequent chapter, but it is necessary here to specify certain elements of the vision whose influence appears at all stages of Isaiah’s career. Of these the first and most fundamental is an overwhelming sense of the majesty and holiness of Jehovah, the God of Israel. These aspects of the divine nature are prominent in nearly every page of his writings, and the prophet’s sense of them is undoubtedly to be traced to that supreme moment of his spiritual history when his eyes saw the King, Jehovah of Hosts, and he shrank in terror from the contact of his holiness (ch. Isaiah 6:5). In the second place, Isaiah was then possessed by the consciousness of a life-long mission to be discharged in the service of the divine King as His messenger and spokesman to Israel. The alacrity with which he offers himself for this work, without knowing what it might involve, is a revelation of the ardent temperament of the man and contrasts strikingly with the hesitation displayed by another great prophet at a similar moment of his life (ch. Isaiah 6:8; cf. Jeremiah 1:6). But Isaiah further learned something of the nature and effects of the work to which he was thus consecrated. It is a gloomy and discouraging prospect that is disclosed to him,—a people so hardened in unbelief that the very abundance of his revelations and the urgency of his appeals will only render them more and more insensible to spiritual influences, while step by step the inevitable judgment is executed upon them until the existing nation of Israel has been utterly consumed (ch. Isaiah 6:9-13). And finally the vision contains a ray of hope in the promise of an indestructible remnant in Israel, a “holy seed” or spiritual kernel of the nation, which shall survive the judgment and become the germ of the ideal people of God (v. 13). This last idea of the “Remnant,” which is one of the most distinctive in Isaiah’s teaching, was perhaps also the first to receive public expression; for it is embodied in the name of a son, Shěâr-Jâshûb (= “Remnant shall turn,”) who must have been born to the prophet very soon after his inaugural vision (see ch. Isaiah 7:3). The application of that and other principles in different situations will appear as we proceed to describe the various aspects of Isaiah’s public work.

It is convenient to distinguish three periods of Isaiah’s ministry, which, although very unequal in length, are marked each by some features peculiar to itself, i. The first period extends from the death of Uzziah to the beginning of the reign of Ahaz. ii. The second is the critical period of the Syro-Ephraimitic invasion, about 735. iii. The third is the time of the Assyrian domination, culminating in the invasion and deliverance of the year 701[16].

[16] Robertson Smith, Prophets of Israel, pp. 214, 422 (2nd Ed.).

i. The discourses commonly assigned to the first period are found in chs. 2–4, Isaiah 5:1-24, Isaiah 9:8 to Isaiah 10:4 + Isaiah 5:25-30. If to these passages we add ch. 1. (which, although certainly not written before the Syro-Ephraimitic war, may not improbably be assigned to that date, and may then be regarded as a final manifesto summing up the results of the first period of his work) we have a well-defined group of prophecies, with a general resemblance to the book of Amos and presenting a vivid picture of the earliest phase of Isaiah’s ministry. Like Amos, the prophet appears here mainly as a preacher of national righteousness and of judgment to come. The two great themes which are the burden of his message are the sin of Israel and the certainty of national disaster through the agency of the Assyrians. It has been disputed which of these two intuitions was primary and which was secondary in the consciousness of the prophets; that is to say, whether it was their profound sense of national sin that led them to the conviction that a great judgment was inevitable, or whether their intuitive certainty of what was portended by the approach of Assyria opened their eyes to the evidences of national corruption around them. The question, so formulated, hardly admits of an answer. What is peculiar to the prophets is the idea of God and of the moral order of the universe which enabled them to see the connexion between two sets of facts which to the prevalent religion of the time stood in no relation to one another. Knowing Jehovah as the absolutely Righteous One and the omnipotent Disposer of events they recognised His voice of anger in the thundering march of the Assyrians, and what they heard confirmed the verdict of their conscience on the moral condition of their people. In this respect Isaiah simply represents the attitude common to the prophets of the Assyrian period, and the two lines of thought which have been indicated are developed with equal power and earnestness in his earliest writings.

We have already seen that the social state of Judah was very similar to that of North Israel in the days of Amos, and Isaiah deals with the evils of the age in the spirit of his predecessor. If we may trust a probable arrangement of the discourses his criticism becomes more incisive and discriminating as time goes on. At first (in ch. 2) his attention is directed to the outstanding evidences of ungodliness and worldly pride in the still prosperous country of Judah. Idolatry, superstition, trust in wealth and warlike resources—these familiar features of the nation’s life are to the vision of the prophet purified by contact with the Holy One of Israel, so many symptoms of the irreligious spirit of his contemporaries. Somewhat later (ch. 3) he touches on social evils, the oppression and injustice practised by the rich and powerful on the poor (vv. 9, 14, 15), and the luxurious fashions of the women of Jerusalem (vv. 16 ff.). In a still later prophecy (ch. Isaiah 5:8-24) he comes to close quarters with the sins of action and of thought characteristic of the upper class, denouncing in a series of “woes” their violations of the rights of property in the lawless extension of landed estates (8–10), their drinking festivities (11, 12, 22), their unjust judgments (23), and (coming to more spiritual sins) their heedlessness of Jehovah’s working (12), mocking and defiant scepticism (19), and perversion of moral distinctions (20). In ch. 1 we find an additional echo of Amos in the exposure of the prevalent delusion that Jehovah could be propitiated by costly and elaborate ritual service without regard to the character and conduct of the worshippers (vv. 10–17). The corrective to this religious error is given in the parable of the vineyard (ch. Isaiah 5:1-7, cf. Isaiah 3:14), which expresses the fundamental prophetic doctrine that Jehovah “looks for judgment … and righteousness” in the nation which He has chosen for His own. There is perhaps one respect in which Isaiah’s treatment of national sins is more profound than that of Amos: he appears to trace all the manifestations of national corruption to a single source in the absence of a religious spirit, or the knowledge of God, in the men of his time. Here again we can perceive the influence of the vivid impression of the glory of God which he himself experienced at the moment of his call.

The descriptions of the coming judgment that occur in this cycle of prophecies exhibit all the qualities of Isaiah’s powerful and versatile genius. His very earliest recorded utterance contains a sublime vision of the “day of Jehovah,” as a day of earthquake and thunder, when “all that is proud and lofty” in nature or human civilisation shall be humbled before the glory of Jehovah’s majesty (ch. Isaiah 2:12 ff.). Again he pictures Jehovah as appearing in person to judge the rulers of his people (Isaiah 3:14), or he sees Him standing with outstretched hand to smite the sinful kingdom of the North (Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 9:17 etc.). But Isaiah’s strong sense of historic reality leads him to throw out more realistic descriptions of the judgment than these. Thus in ch. Isaiah 3:1-7 he conceives it as taking the shape of a period of revolutionary anarchy in the Judaean state, such as he had already witnessed in Ephraim (Isaiah 9:14 ff.). And although he does not yet mention the Assyrians by name, it is plain from Isaiah 5:26-30 that he has them in view as the human instruments of Jehovah’s vengeance on Israel.

The eschatological element of Isaiah’s teaching, however, is as yet simple and undeveloped, although clearly present. He looks for a purification of the state from its base and worthless elements and a restoration of the best times of the old monarchy (Isaiah 1:24-26). The doctrine of the remnant is referred to in Isaiah 1:27, as well as in the name of the prophet’s son Shear-Jashub. Of the ideal age beyond the judgment we have two pictures in Isaiah 2:2-4 and Isaiah 4:2-6, although it is not quite certain that either of these passages belongs to Isaiah’s spoken message of this period.

ii. (See chs. Isaiah 17:1-11; Isaiah 17:7-8; perhaps also Isaiah 9:1-7) The second phase of Isaiah’s ministry exhibits him in an entirely new character, that, namely, of a political adviser. In order to appreciate the importance of this fact we have only to look at the contrast which in this respect he presents to Amos and Hosea in the North. These prophets held the same fundamental convictions as Isaiah; they looked forward to a blessed future for Israel after the work of judgment was completed; yet their writings contain no hint of political direction for the leaders of the state. They take up a negative attitude towards the problems of statesmanship; and it must have seemed that the breach between Jehovah and His people was so absolute that no guidance or counsel could be obtained through the medium of the prophetic word. Now it is one of Isaiah’s chief distinctions that he revived this political function of prophecy which had been in abeyance since the time of Elisha. Without descending from the high spiritual level to which prophecy had been raised by the work of Amos and Hosea, he was able from that standpoint to formulate a definite religious policy by which the nation might be safely guided through the dangers that lay immediately before it.

The fundamental maxims of Isaiah’s statesmanship come first to light in the crisis of the Syro-Ephraimitic invasion, in the memorable interview with Ahaz, recorded in ch. 7. The prophet had already announced (in ch. Isaiah 17:1-11) the issue of the ill-fated alliance between Syria and Ephraim. By its un-brotherly attack on Judah (see ch. Isaiah 9:21) the Northern Kingdom had but sealed its own doom; and both it and Syria must speedily fall a prey to the advancing Assyrians. He knew also that a brief respite would be granted to Judah; and it was with the view of securing that this interval should be taken advantage of in the highest interests of the nation that he sought, under, divine direction, a personal meeting with the king. His main concern was to dissuade Ahaz from seeking to save himself from a passing danger by placing himself under the protection of Assyria. He represented the trivial nature of the momentary peril; and urged the king with all the weight of his inspired authority to adopt an attitude of wise passivity, renouncing all trust in earthly help and dubious political expedients, and relying on Jehovah alone to bring a good result out of the present crisis. How eager he was to bring the king round to a right mind he shewed by the offer of a miraculous sign in confirmation of his right to speak in the name of Jehovah. But it was all in vain. Ahaz had probably already taken his own line, and he refused to be turned aside by the fervid appeal of the prophet.

Isaiah, however, did not accept the decision of Ahaz as the final response of the nation to his message. From the court he appealed to the people at large, in the series of oracles contained in ch. 8, extending probably over a period of many months. By two symbolic acts he endeavoured to fix indelibly in the public mind the central fact on which his reading of the political situation hinged, viz., the speedy destruction of Syria and Ephraim by the king of Assyria. For this purpose he first caused a placard to be affixed, with legal formalities, in a conspicuous position, bearing the inscription “To Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (Isaiah 8:1-2). Then some months afterwards he gave the interpretation of the motto, in connexion with the birth of a son, in whose name, as his manner was, he embodied the idea which at the time was of paramount importance in his work. “For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and, My mother, the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be carried away before the king of Assyria” (vv. 3, 4). But neither amongst the people did he find any general acceptance of his message. On every hand he was confronted by evidences of religious insensibility and confirmed unbelief. It was his first experience on a large scale of the truth revealed to him in his inaugural vision, that the effect of his mission would be to produce judicial blindness and hardness of heart in those whom he addressed. The prophet recognised that his generation had passed through a spiritual ordeal from which it emerged with a gloomier destiny and a more certain looking for of judgment than under better auspices might have awaited it. It would seem that as he stood there before the unworthy representative of the house of David, thrown back on the inward inspiration which guided him, the prophet saw the whole vista of the future suddenly unfolded before his vision in darker colours, but in clearer outline than it had ever yet assumed. The sign which Ahaz did not dare to ask would be given in spite of his refusal (Isaiah 7:14); a child should be born whose name, Immanuel, “God with us,” should be the earnest of deliverance from the attack of the allied kings (v. 16). But this happy event does not now close the outlook. Beyond that deliverance stretches the dreary prospect of a land ravaged by Assyrian and Egyptian armies, of the cessation of agriculture for an indefinite period, and a poor and scanty population reduced to the bare necessities of life (Isaiah 7:18-25; cf. Isaiah 8:7-8). In this time of distress the child Immanuel is to grow up, sharing the poverty and humiliation of his people (Isaiah 7:15); and the full significance of his name will only be revealed in that glorious future which here, as always, forms the limit of Isaiah’s prophetic horizon (Isaiah 9:1-7. See below, p. lviii f.).

Such appear to be the main outlines of the forecast of coming events which Isaiah published at the time of the Syro-Ephraimitic war. That it was remarkably verified in the subsequent history of Judah is familiar to all readers of the Old Testament. It is true that the picture contains some minor features which were not exactly fulfilled. Probably none of the events foretold took place quite so soon as Isaiah had anticipated. The overthrow of Damascus took place in 732, that of Samaria ten years later. So again the Assyrian invasion of Judah did not happen within at most 10 or 12 years, as Isaiah appears to have expected, but was postponed for more than a generation. The land of Judah was not the theatre of the contest between Egypt and Assyria for the mastery of Asia, as is assumed in Isaiah 7:18-19. But these are matters of detail which do not affect the substantial truth of the prediction, and they are modified in later utterances of Isaiah. (The broad fact remains that Isaiah’s public attitude at this time was based on a foreknowledge of the course of events which could not have been reached by any estimate of political probabilities.) The immediate danger proved to be as trivial and evanescent as he persistently declared it to be, while the fatal results of the course chosen by Ahaz, though deferred for a time, were experienced in the disasters of Sennacherib’s invasion.

We have yet to notice the significant incident which closes this chapter of the prophet’s history (Isaiah 8:16-18). The rejection of his message by the people seems to have led to a temporary cessation of his public activity; and he marks his sense of the importance of the event by a singular action, which is described as “binding up the testimony and sealing the instruction among his disciples.” The expressions no doubt are somewhat obscure; but the most natural supposition is that they refer to a written record of the prophecies delivered during the late crisis, which Isaiah solemnly sealed in presence of his “disciples,” as a protest against the unbelief of the nation. Jehovah now “hideth his face from the house of Israel,” i.e. he withdraws the guidance of the prophetic word which had been so coldly received. It remains for the prophet, and those who share his faith, to wait for the fulfilment of his word, and he appears by this act to separate himself and his adherents from the mass of their contemporaries and to form a new circle of religious fellowship based on faith in the revelation which Jehovah had given through himself. It is certain at any rate that at this time of general unbelief there was a band of men who were known as “disciples” of Isaiah; and it may well be that the fact so vaguely indicated, represents the most influential phase of his activity. The history of religions shews that the most enduring of all spiritual influences are those communicated through the close fellowship of a great personality with a limited number of susceptible minds, or in short through the relation of master and disciples. It would be no surprise to find this principle exemplified in the career of Isaiah. It is but the practical development of his fundamental conception of a spiritual kernel within the nation; the “remnant” that should “return” was being formed under his eyes in the persons of the men who at this time began to detach themselves from an untoward generation and gather round him for inspiration and instruction.

iii. The silence of Isaiah does not seem to have been broken by any public pronouncement during the remainder of the reign of Ahaz. In a short oracle assigned by its title to the year of that king’s death (ch. Isaiah 14:29-32), he appears to speak as one who has an acknowledged position of authority in the direction of affairs of state; and such a change in the prophet’s relations to the court would be naturally explained by the accession of Hezekiah. If we accept the view that Hezekiah succeeded to the throne in 727 this prophecy would signalise Isaiah’s return to power after about six or seven years of retirement under the government of Ahaz. It is true that the genuineness of the title, and indeed of the prophecy itself, are widely disputed; but there does not seem to be any real difficulty in supposing that Isaiah uttered such an oracle at this time. In any case the accession of Hezekiah, a ruler of a very different stamp from his father, must have presented a new opening for the furtherance of Isaiah’s public aims, of which we may be sure he would not fail to take advantage.

In the early part of this reign, he found an unexpected ally in the person of Micah of Moresheth Gath, whose work dates from the years immediately preceding the fall of the Northern Kingdom (cf. Micah 1:6 with Jeremiah 26:18). That the work of Micah made a profound impression on his contemporaries is seen from the remarkable incident related in Jeremiah 26:17-19. We learn from that passage that the point which excited most attention in Micah’s teaching was his definite prediction of the utter destruction of the capital and its sanctuary for the sins of the nobles who “built up Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity” (ch. Isaiah 3:10-12). This is a thought which probably found no echo in the message of Isaiah at this time (see below, p. lxii); although it must have been familiar to those who remembered his earlier prophecies. But whilst in this one respect Micah represents a somewhat different point of view from Isaiah’s, in all essential matters the two prophets exhibit the most complete agreement. The picture of the state of Judah presented by the book of Isaiah is confirmed in almost every particular by the writings of Micah; and the coincidence proves that no amelioration of the condition of the common people had taken place since Isaiah first appeared as a prophet. Micah, indeed, depicts the wrongs of the peasantry with a vehement indignation natural in one who lived at a distance from the capital and in all probability belonged himself to the class which suffered most severely from the corruption and injustice which reigned in Jerusalem. It cannot be said that Isaiah deals less severely with these evils, but his political interests were wider than Micah’s, and he never lost sight of the importance of good government and the necessity for social distinctions within the community. Hence while Micah contemplates simply a sweeping away of the intolerable system of government under which he lived, Isaiah steadily looks forward to a reformation of the aristocracy as a primary condition of the welfare of the state. Yet Isaiah must have eagerly welcomed the response which his teaching met from the common people as represented by a kindred spirit like Micah. It must have strengthened his hopes for a better time when all classes of the nation would cooperate in the promotion of the highest interests of morality and religion; when the demand for righteousness which rose from the ranks of the commonalty would be answered by “a king reigning in righteousness and princes ruling in judgment” (Isaiah 32:1).

In the sphere of politics Isaiah consistently upheld the maxim that the safety of the state lay in abstinence from all attempts to recover its independence and in quiet resignation to the will of Jehovah. There is not the least reason to believe that the prophet ever entertained a hope that by following the course he recommended Judah might be spared the crowning disaster of an Assyrian invasion. That great act of judgment was irrevocably decreed by Jehovah, and could not be finally averted by any line of policy however prudent or even religious it might be. Isaiah’s purpose was simply to secure that when the judgment came its salutary effects might be experienced by as large a section of the nation as possible; and with this ultimate object in view he counselled a patient acceptance of the irksome political situation in which Judah was placed, and above all an attitude of neutrality in the repeated struggles which were made by the surrounding nations against Assyria. This of course was on the surface a very different line of action from that which he urged on Ahaz in the year 735; but both were founded on the one fundamental principle by which Isaiah’s statesmanship was governed. Then, he sought to prevent Ahaz from entering into an alliance with Tiglath-pileser, involving a dishonourable subjection to the Assyrian Empire. Now, under Hezekiah, he sets his face against all schemes for violating that compact by an alliance with Egypt or any other country opposed to Assyria. But the religious motive in both cases was his antipathy to the spirit of unbelief which he discovered in all attempts to effect political salvation by human wisdom and the help of heathen states. How jealously at this time he watched over the first manifestations of hostility towards Assyria, and how prompt he was to check them, is shewn by two prophecies belonging to the first half of Hezekiah’s reign. One is the oracle on Philistia already referred to (ch. Isaiah 14:29-32), in which he announces a terrible chastisement of the Philistine cities at the hands of the Assyrians, and stakes the safety of Israel on Jehovah’s power and purpose to protect Mount Zion. The other (ch. 20) is dated in the year of the Tartan’s expedition against Ashdod (711), and contains a still more emphatic warning against the folly of trusting to Egypt for help. From the fact that Hezekiah had never as yet definitely committed himself to overt rebellion, we may judge that these warnings were not without effect. It is important to observe that down to the year 711 Isaiah anticipated a great extension of the Assyrian Empire before its power should be broken. The conquest of Egypt and Ethiopia (ch. 20) was an event that could not come about in a day, and when the prophet uttered that prediction he cannot have looked for an immediate termination to the proud and victorious career of Assyria. This fact has to be noticed because of a certain modification of Isaiah’s outlook in the next great discourse to which our attention must be directed.

As the inevitable collision between Judah and the world-power drew near, Isaiah found it necessary to expound in a set discourse his inspired convictions with regard to the mission of Assyria and the limits assigned to it in the scheme of Jehovah’s universal government. It was a theme which had never as yet been systematically handled from the point of view of prophecy. Both Amos and Hosea had recognised in Assyria the providential instrument of judgment on the sin of Israel, and had assumed that when its commission was executed it would in some way be removed and not be permitted to impede the development of Jehovah’s gracious purposes towards His people. But neither of them was led to reflect on the enigma presented by Jehovah’s use of a human instrument which scorned His authority and obeyed no law but its own savage lust of plunder and destruction. It was a problem, however, which could not fail to thrust itself on the mind of Isaiah, as he marked the unresting advance of Assyria towards universal dominion and became aware of the ruthless and impious spirit which animated the masters of those irresistible legions. How could an immoral force be used for moral ends? When and where and how would the Assyrian overstep the limits of his commission and appear in open conflict with the purpose of Him who raised him up? And when that point was reached, how would Jehovah rid Himself of the formidable tool which He had fashioned to execute His strange work on the earth? Such questions as these find their answer in ch. Isaiah 10:5-34, one of the longest and most characteristic of Isaiah’s utterances and perhaps the grandest exposition of the religious interpretation of history that ever was written[17]. (See the Introductory Note to ch. Isaiah 10:5-34.)

[17] The passage is of uncertain date, but most probably belongs to the beginning of the reign of Sennacherib.

What is most distinctive in Isaiah’s representation is that the final trespass of the Assyrian is conceived as taking the form of an assault on the inviolable seat of Jehovah’s earthly government in Jerusalem. It is when he stands under the walls of the capital, “swinging his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion,” (v. 32) that a destructive blow will be dealt to him: “the Lord, Jehovah of Hosts, shall lop the boughs with terror; and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the lofty shall be humbled” (v. 33). Thus after Assyria has proved the impotence of all other gods by destroying in succession the peoples that served and trusted in them, the breaking of its power on the soil of Palestine will reveal to all the world the true divinity of Jehovah, and vindicate the truth that its whole enterprise had been controlled and guided to this issue by the Holy One of Israel. Never, perhaps, had a great religious idea been more boldly staked on the success of a definite historical prediction. But through all the troubles and excitement that filled the early years of Sennacherib’s reign Isaiah never wavered in the assurance that his words would be verified by the event. The expectation of a great and speedy disaster to the Assyrian armies becomes one of the sustaining motives of his ministry, and he proclaims it with unhesitating confidence, not only to his own countrymen (as in ch. Isaiah 14:24-27 and Isaiah 17:12-14) but also to the ambassadors from Ethiopia who at this time visited Jerusalem (ch. 18).

This brings us to the important group of prophecies issued by Isaiah during and immediately before the invasion of Sennacherib (ch. 28–31[18]. [? 32 f]; 22). It was a time of unprecedented activity on the part of the prophet, when nearly every leading principle of his ministry stands out with singular clearness and force. It is not easy, however, to form a consistent conception of his attitude and action during this crisis. Two main ideas cross each other throughout the discourses; on the one hand the necessity for a severe judgment on Jerusalem in which the city shall be reduced to the utmost distress and humiliation, and on the other hand the certainty that the crisis will end in the destruction of Assyria and the introduction of a glorious era for the people of God. At times (especially in Isaiah 29:4; Isaiah 32:13 f.; Isaiah 22:1-14) the first thought is pushed so far as apparently to exclude the other, so that the prophet seems to speak with a double voice, now uttering unrelieved oracles of doom, and again consoling the people with visions of the brighter future. The manner in which the two ideas alternate—each prophecy of judgment passing into a captivating picture of the idyllic peace and felicity just about to break on the nation—also presents a literary problem of some difficulty. We cannot hope to explain these phenomena to our entire satisfaction, because the oracles would naturally be modified in the act of committing them to writing, and we do not know to what extent they correspond with Isaiah’s spoken message at the time. Nevertheless one or two aspects of the situation are revealed with unmistakeable distinctness; and on these it will be best to concentrate our attention.

[18] The first six verses of ch. 28. must have been spoken before the destruction of Samaria, but they were probably republished at this time.

The most prominent feature of Isaiah’s activity which appears in 28–31, is his opposition to the project of rebellion in alliance with Egypt. This led him almost single-handed into a prolonged conflict with the leaders of the Egyptian party, whose influence was then in the ascendant at Hezekiah’s court. Amongst these men a high official named Shebna (probably a foreigner) enjoys the distinction of being the only private individual who falls under the lash of Isaiah’s invective (ch. Isaiah 22:15 ff.). How great the prophet’s political influence was is shewn by the anxiety of the conspirators to keep him in the dark with regard to the plot that was being hatched (Isaiah 29:15; Isaiah 30:1). In this they did not succeed; Isaiah’s ceaseless vigilance unmasked their design, and he was able to follow the negotiations step by step with reiterated warnings. On one occasion we find him engaged in a heated altercation with the leaders of the war party, whom he had apparently surprised at a carousal held to celebrate what they called a “covenant with death and an agreement with the underworld” (Isaiah 28:8 ff.). More than once he satirises the craft and subtlety on which the conspirators prided themselves; and denounces the secrecy in which they screened their proceedings as an attempt to outwit the Almighty (Isaiah 29:15; Isaiah 30:1-12; Isaiah 31:1-2). A parting glimpse of the ill-fated enterprise is probably given in ch. Isaiah 30:6-7, where the prophet pictures the heavily laden caravan making its way across the desert with presents from Hezekiah to the potentates of the Nile Valley. Isaiah’s protest was therefore unavailing. The intrigue of the nobles prevailed over the wiser counsels of the prophet; and for the second time in his life he seems to have retired from a bootless controversy with a solemn testimony against the infatuation which had seized the whole people. Once more, as in the days of Ahaz, he embodied the substance of his message in a permanent written record, that it might be a witness against the unbelief and rejection of the divine revelation which must surely end in national disaster (Isaiah 30:8 ff.).

There is no doubt that for the moment the policy adopted by the court was popular with all classes of the community. The prospect of a war with Assyria was eagerly welcomed by the reckless patriotism of the common people; and the spirit of levity manifested by the capital at this time seemed to Isaiah not less irreligious than the carnal tendencies of the court. A certain air of mirth and gaiety appears at all times to have impressed him as characteristic of the population of Jerusalem,—the “jubilant city” as he twice names it (Isaiah 22:2; Isaiah 32:13; cf. Isaiah 5:14). Some of the gloomiest oracles belonging to this period were called forth by thoughtless exhibitions of this temper of mind which came under the prophet’s observation. Looking on the merry throng that gathered in the temple court at one of the great annual festivals, he uttered the “Woe to Ariel” of ch. Isaiah 29:1-4, in which he predicts the humiliation of the impenitent city within the space of one or two years. Another time it was the careless and scornful attitude of the women that moved him to deliver a very similar message of doom (Isaiah 32:9-14). But the worst display of this feeling seems to have occurred at the very moment when Isaiah looked for some token of penitential submission to the will of Jehovah. The difficult prophecy of ch. Isaiah 22:1-14, which exceeds in severity any other in the whole book, refers most probably to what took place when the first blockade of Jerusalem was raised in consequence of Hezekiah’s surrender. That was emphatically a day on which “the Lord Jehovah of hosts called to weeping and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth” (v. 12). But instead of this, it was the occasion of a senseless outburst of mirth and festivity which astounded the prophet, and for the moment obliterated from his mind the vision of a happy future. Heedless of the late disasters, and the humiliating conditions of peace, the city kept holiday in honour of its deliverance, the house-tops were crowded with spectators watching the departure of the Assyrian army, and universal hilarity expressed the prevalent sentiment of the hour, “let us eat and drink for to-morrow we shall die” (v. 13). Isaiah was at first moved to tears by such a revelation of the incorrigible hardness of the people under Jehovah’s chastisements (v. 4), but at length sorrow gives way to righteous indignation and in his inner ear there sounded, like a knell, the awful sentence of rejection, “Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord, Jehovah of Hosts” (v. 14).

It may fairly be inferred from these three prophecies that Isaiah entertained no expectation of salvation for the mass of his countrymen, and that he was saved from absolute pessimism only by his unquenchable faith in an elect “remnant” and by the hopes that sprang from that conviction. There is no section of his writings where these hopes find grander or clearer expression than the discourses of Sennacherib’s reign. The prophet felt that the hour of the decisive conflict between Jehovah and the world-power was at hand; and he knew that in the last extremity Jerusalem would be protected by the direct intervention of the Almighty (Isaiah 29:7-8; Isaiah 31:5). This thought is most powerfully expressed in an imaginative picture of the judgment on Assyria contained in ch. Isaiah 30:27-33 (cf. Isaiah 31:8-9). The crisis of Jerusalem’s fate becomes the occasion of that final revelation of the majesty of God to which Isaiah had looked forward from the beginning of his work, and which he had with increasing distinctness connected with the overthrow of the Assyrian power. The whole history of redemption converges to this one event; it is the consummation of Jehovah’s work of judgment on both Israel and Assyria, and the inauguration of the reign of holiness and peace reserved for the purified remnant of the nation. Hence it is that the threats of judgment which the prophet was constrained by the perverseness of the people to utter are constantly relieved by ideal pictures of salvation in which he found a refuge from the discouragements and confusions of the present. It is possible that these passages may have been addressed in the first instance to his own disciples rather than to the people at large; at all events they shew how firmly he held to the belief that out of the immediate trial there would emerge a regenerate nation to enjoy the temporal and spiritual blessings of the Messianic age (Isaiah 29:17-24; Isaiah 30:18-26; Isaiah 32:1-8).

We have now traced Isaiah’s activity to the close of the first attack of Sennacherib on Jerusalem, and we have seen that up to that moment nothing had occurred to modify his stern verdict on the disposition of the inhabitants. For what follows we are almost entirely dependent on the historical appendix of the book (ch. 36, 37) and the prophecies imbedded there. We are at once struck by the change that has passed over the prophet’s attitude in the short interval. The note of rebuke and menace which was so prominent during the first stages of the invasion has wholly disappeared from his teaching; his tone is one of serene confidence and his message is an unconditional assurance of the collapse of the Assyrian enterprise. It is not so difficult as it might appear to account for this sudden alteration in the prophet’s demeanour. The renewal of the demand for the surrender of Jerusalem had a most salutary effect on the disposition of Hezekiah, and no doubt on the court and the populace as well. The king recognised the hopeless plight in which his adventurous policy had landed him, and, thoroughly humbled, throws himself unreservedly on the protection of Jehovah and the guidance of His prophet. On the other hand the perfidious conduct of Sennacherib, and his blasphemous defiance of the God of Israel, had put him in the wrong; he had committed the crowning offence against the majesty of Jehovah which Isaiah had long foreseen. He felt therefore that the time of Judah’s chastisement was past, and that of Sennacherib’s downfall had arrived. All that remained for him to do was to sustain the faith and courage of Hezekiah with the assurance that Jehovah was with him in his refusal to submit to the demands of Sennacherib. It is not necessary here to follow the details of the narrative. What is most remarkable in the oracles of this time is the sobriety of the prediction on which Isaiah based his encouragement to resistance. He drops no hint of the frightful catastrophe which was to break the power of Assyria in that region for a whole generation. He simply announces that the Assyrian shall “hear a rumour and return to his own land,” there to perish by the sword (Isaiah 37:7), that “by the way that he came by the same he shall return,” without having so much as “shot an arrow” against Jerusalem (vv. 29, 33, 34 f.). All this of course was strictly fulfilled, and would of itself form a complete vindication of Isaiah’s authority to speak in the name of his God. But the sudden and terrible calamity which overwhelmed the army of Sennacherib answered in some degree to the most dramatic of his earlier prophecies (Isaiah 10:3 f.; Isaiah 17:12 ff.; Isaiah 18:3 ff.; Isaiah 30:27 ff.) and proved that all through his career Isaiah had been inspired with a true foreknowledge which no calculation of probabilities could have attained.

The comparative moderation of Isaiah’s last utterances must not lead us to underestimate the heroism of faith which enabled him to stand out at this juncture as the saviour of his country. The political risks of the course he advocated were indeed tremendous; for a renewed declaration of war against Assyria must have seemed to all human sagacity a perfectly desperate policy. But far more momentous were the religious issues at stake. If Jerusalem had then been surrendered or captured, all that had been gained by the work of Isaiah and other prophets would have been lost to Israel and to the world. The spiritual religion which lay in germ in the teaching of Isaiah was not as yet capable of existing apart from the nationality in which it had been born, and hence the preservation of the Hebrew state was of paramount importance for the conservation of the true knowledge of God. Yet with all this in view Isaiah never wavered. While all around him were paralysed with fear, his confidence remained unshaken, and in the supreme hour of danger he boldly announced that the city would be saved and the word of the Lord established. His success in this last emergency, after so many defeats at the hands of an unbelieving nation and its rulers, was an event which has had “more influence on the life of subsequent generations than all the conquests of Assyrian kings; for it assured the permanent vitality of that religion which was the cradle of Christianity[19].”

[19] Robertson Smith, Prophets, p. 356.

The remainder of Isaiah’s life is wrapped in obscurity. How long he survived the deliverance, how his last years were occupied, in what spirit he faced the problems of a new century, we cannot tell. It is an attractive conjecture of Duhm that his most soaring pictures of the Messiah’s kingdom (Isaiah 2:1-4; Isaiah 11:1-8; Isaiah 32:1-6) come from his latest years, when the aged prophet, after a life spent in labour and conflict, turned with rapture to that ideal future which in spite of all delays and disappointments must surely be realised. It is an attractive idea, but nothing more. A Jewish tradition current in the 2nd century a.d. asserts that he outlived Hezekiah and perished in the heathen reaction under Manasseh; but this also, though not inherently incredible, is destitute of historical value. This is a case in which the silence of scripture is as instructive as its speech. For it reminds us that Isaiah’s life work really ended with the events of 701. It was enough for one man to have guided the policy of his country through its first eventful collision with the world power, which in its own ruthless fashion was preparing the way for a new civilisation; to have enunciated the principles of the moral government of the universe that made monotheism a practical power in history; to have enriched eschatology with the figure of the ideal King of God’s kingdom; to have formed within the Jewish state a prophetic party in which the religion of the spirit eventually detached itself from its national environment; and to have left behind him an illustrious example of that faith in the unseen and eternal without which humanity cannot reach the goal appointed for it in the redemptive purpose of God.


Isaiah’s Prophetic Conceptions

The ruling ideas of Isaiah’s ministry are not materially different from those of the other great prophets of the same period, Amos, Hosea and Micah. All these writers are animated by the same fundamental convictions with regard to the nature and character of Jehovah the God of Israel, His controversy with His people, the necessity of a national judgment to be inflicted through the agency of Assyria, and the final establishment of Jehovah’s kingdom of righteousness and peace. But to this common body of prophetic doctrine each prophet contributes something that is distinctive, according as the bent of his genius or his peculiar experience led him to develop certain aspects of truth specially revealed to him. In the case of Isaiah we shall see that from the beginning his message contained some elements not to be found in the writings of his contemporaries; while other distinctive conceptions emerge in the course of his active ministry. Being preeminently a man of action and a statesman, his firm grasp of political facts imparts a special direction to his thoughts of the divine kingdom; and the necessity of presenting a definite religious policy to the rulers of the state gives a precision and fulness to his forecasts of the future in which he is hardly equalled by any other prophet At the same time there is an organic unity in his teaching, all his leading ideas being implicitly contained in a few simple but comprehensive principles disclosed to him in his inaugural vision. They may be arranged under three heads: first, those more immediately connected with the prophet’s conception of God; second, his view of Israel; and third, the Messianic hope in its different aspects.

I. Jehovah and His Work

Isaiah is a monotheist in the strictest sense of the term. There is no sentence in his writings which suggests that he attributed any sort of real existence to the false gods of the heathen; and if he never reasons on the subject of the divine unity, it is because the fact was too fundamental in his mind to admit of demonstration. He frequently speaks of idols as “the work of men’s hands” (Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 2:20; Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 31:7); his favourite designation for them is ’ělîlîm (“not-gods” or “nonentities”) a word which he seems himself to have coined to express his sense of their unreality. No language could be more opposed to the spirit of idolatry than this; for it expressly denies the belief which is at the foundation of the worship of idols, namely, that the image is the abode of a supernatural being able to protect and help his votaries. Nor are the prophet’s allusions to the primitive nature-worship which survived in the land (Isaiah 1:29-30; Isaiah 17:10-11) less intolerant, or less decisive as to his attitude towards the polytheistic tendencies of his countrymen. For him, in short, there was but one divine Being; and all his conceptions of Godhead are summed up in the revelation which made him a prophet, the vision of Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel (ch. 6).

It has been already remarked (p. xxiv) that the aspect of the divine nature chiefly expressed by this vision is that of over-whelming and awe-inspiring majesty. The effect produced on the mind by Isaiah’s magnificent description is far more impressive and convincing on this point than any analysis of the contents of the vision can be. But if we must analyse, we cannot fail to observe how every touch in the picture emphasises the general conception of Jehovah as a transcendently glorious Being, in whose awful presence no unconsecrated mortal can stand. The throne “high and lofty” on which He sits indicates that He is a King, and not the King of Israel alone, but the absolute, universal Sovereign, (âdôn) whose glory is the fulness of the whole earth. The fiery creatures, the Seraphs, who are the ministers of His court, and who reflect something of His ineffable glory, nevertheless veil themselves before Him in the consciousness of their imperfection, while the hymn of praise that continually ascends from their lips expresses their sense of His adorable and incomparable majesty. Further, the fear of death which overtakes the prophet as he gazes unbidden on this solemn mystery, as well as the symbol of his expiation, which is by contact with the fire in which Jehovah dwells, and also the sternness of the divine message to Israel, all contribute to the impression which this scene conveys of Jehovah’s unapproachable majesty.

The chant of the seraphs contains two words which may be said to sum up the import of the vision in so far as it is a revelation of God. Of these the first is the word holy, expressing what Jehovah is in Himself; while the second—glory—appears to denote an aspect of His Godhead which is reflected in the works of nature.

In order to understand the significance the term “holiness” (qôdesh) in Isaiah’s conception of God, we have to start from a much lower level of religious thinking than that which is represented by his teaching. The word is not confined to the religion of Israel, but was used throughout Semitic antiquity as the most comprehensive predicate of deity, although the idea primarily expressed by it is somewhat uncertain. If, as many writers believe, it comes from a root signifying “separation” or “distance” it would embody the notion of the contrast between the divine and the human which was perhaps characteristic of the conception of God common to the Semitic peoples. It is certain at all events that “holiness” does not express any special attribute of the divine nature but rather the general notion of godhead, as distinguished from every other form of existence. Such a phrase, for example, as “the holy gods,” which occurs in the inscription of Eshmunazar king of Sidon, as well as in Daniel 4:8-9; Daniel 4:18; Daniel 5:11, is a mere redundancy of speech, gratifying the reverential feeling of the speakers, but conveying no information as to the character of the gods. Least of all did the term connote ethical purity; for the deities to whom it was applied by the heathen Semites were not only immoral from our point of view, but were not even regarded as moral beings by their own worshippers[20].

[20] With the secondary applications of the word to places, persons and things we are not here concerned; but the fact that the Hierodouloi, or sacred prostitutes, of the Canaanite religion were known as “holy women” furnishes decisive evidence of the complete divorce in ancient times of the two ideas of holiness and morality.

Now the writings of the Hebrew prophets, and of Isaiah in particular, mark an important stage in the development of this notion of holiness. At first sight it might seem inexplicable that a purely formal idea, expressing no positive conception beyond that of awe-inspiring power and majesty, should become a central doctrine of the prophetic theology. But in truth it is the very vagueness and comprehensiveness of the term which explains the profound significance attaching to it in the mind of Isaiah. By taking this word, which by universal consent embraced all that was distinctive of deity, and restricting it to Jehovah, he expressed the fundamental truth that in the God of Israel and in Him alone are concentrated all the attributes of true divinity[21]. Holiness thus ceases to be an abstract quality shared by a number of divine beings; it comes to denote the fulness of what Jehovah is as He is known from His revelation of Himself to the consciousness of the prophet. It signalises the most notable fact in the religious history of Israel, the formation of an idea of God which at once placed an impassable gulf between Jehovah and all other beings who claimed the title of divine; and it is this positive idea of God, expressed in the doctrine of Jehovah’s unique holiness, that is the mainstay of Isaiah’s ministry.

[21] No attempt is here made to discriminate between what is peculiar to Isaiah and what is common to him and other prophets. It is not implied that he was the only, or the first, writer who made this application of the word “holy.”

From this point of view it is immaterial to determine how much or how little of permanent religious truth may have been contained in the primitive notion of holiness, which prevailed in the Semitic world. It is probable that the word universally conveyed impressions of the awful might of the Godhead such as are reflected in Isaiah’s vision, just as the prophet’s presentiment of death may be akin to the popular belief that the direct sight of God bodes destruction to mortals (Jdg 13:22, &c.). This at any rate is an element in Isaiah’s idea of God and is therefore included under the word “holiness.” But a term which embraces every distinctive attribute of deity must necessarily expand and deepen with every advance in the true knowledge of God. Hence we might expect that under the influence of Revelation the idea would be filled with ethical contents, and would denote the moral perfectness which belongs to the character of Jehovah. That this is included in Isaiah’s use of the word appears clearly from the sense of sin which the vision of God awakened within him. “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” This consciousness of moral defect cleaving to him answers to the conception of Jehovah as a Being of spotless purity, separated not only from nature, but from all that is imperfect and sinful—One who is “of too pure eyes to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). Thus in Isaiah’s hands the word “holy” becomes a complete expression for the doctrine of God which is maintained by the prophets. It denotes first, the natural attributes of power and majesty which are inseparable from the thought of Deity; second, the ethical character and perfection of the God of Revelation; while finally by being restricted in its application to Jehovah it asserts His exclusive right to the adoration and homage not merely of His own people but of all His rational creatures.

The second word, “glory” (kâbôd) is used in the Old Testament in a variety of senses. It is certainly less comprehensive than “holy,” and is perhaps hardly to be considered a strictly theological term. Nevertheless its use in the Trisagion suggests a striking aspect of Isaiah’s conception of the relation of God to the universe. In nearly all cases “glory” means the external manifestation of power or greatness, whether of a king (Isaiah 8:7; Psalm 24:7 ff.) or a nation (Isaiah 17:3-4; Micah 1:15) or an individual (Genesis 31:1; Job 29:20), or humanity as such (Psalm 8:5)[22]. The glory of God is spoken of chiefly in two senses; first, of the honour and praise due to Him from men (or angels) (Malachi 1:6); and second, of the dazzling brightness in which he arrays Himself when He supernaturally manifests His presence on earth (Ezekiel 3:23, &c.; Exodus 16:10, &c.). Neither of these meanings, however, quite suits the use of the term in the second line of the Seraphs’ hymn, which literally translated reads “the filling of the whole earth is His glory.” Obviously “glory” is here something objective, as distinct from the glory ascribed to God in the praises of His creatures; while it is at the same time something “far more deeply interfused” with nature than the supernatural phenomena of the cloud of fire and light. The general idea must be that all which the world contains, all that is sublime and powerful in nature, is the outward expression and symbol of the majesty which belongs to Him as the God of all the earth.

[22] Etymologically, the word comes from a root signifying “heaviness”; hence that which is impressive as a display of power or dignity.

This leads us to consider an important development of the doctrine of Jehovah’s universal sovereignty which is conspicuous in the writings of Isaiah; namely, the idea of a “work” or “plan” which is the revelation of Jehovah in history. In the vision the Great King is represented as deliberating with Himself on the interests of His Kingdom, and calling for a messenger to represent Him on earth. Isaiah’s mind was thus directly led to the thought of a divine purpose which is being progressively realised in the providential government of the world. The thought was evidently one that laid a deep hold upon him (see ch. Isaiah 5:12; Isaiah 10:12; Isaiah 10:23; Isaiah 14:24; Isaiah 14:26 f.; [Isaiah 22:11] Isaiah 28:21 f.). By the “work” of Jehovah he means chiefly, indeed, (though, as we shall see, not exclusively), the great consummation of history towards which events were rapidly hastening. It is a “final and decisive work” which Jehovah is about to execute (Isaiah 10:23; Isaiah 28:22). Its goal is the manifestation of His own Godhead, and the establishment of His Kingdom of righteousness on the earth. This is effected in the “day” of Jehovah, which appears to be conceived from the first as a day of universal judgment, in which all human pride will be humbled, and men will fling their idols to the moles and the bats and hide themselves from “the glory of His majesty when He arises to terrify the earth” (Isaiah 2:17; Isaiah 2:19 ff.). Later on, the idea assumes a more definite shape in the announcement of a contest between Jehovah and the power of this world as concentrated in the Assyrian empire. Jehovah quietly looks on in His dwelling-place (Isaiah 18:4) until the moment for action has arrived, and then suddenly His anger explodes against His enemies and consumes them. But this is not all that Isaiah means by the “work” of God. Not only in the supreme crisis of history but in the stirring political changes of his time the prophet discerns the operation of Jehovah’s hands. Not to perceive this divine working is one of the great faults with which he charges the irreligious leaders of his people (Isaiah 5:12; Isaiah 22:11). Just as Jehovah’s glory fills the whole earth, though the eyes of men are blind to it, so His activity pervades all human history, although from the lips of unbelievers the prophet hears the shallow scoff: “let Him hasten His work that we may see it, and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh that we may know it” (Isaiah 5:19). It is this conception of a continuous work of Jehovah in His Providence that enables Isaiah to bring the idea of God into such close contact with the events of his time, and makes the doctrine of the universal divine Sovereignty so living and practical a principle of his ministry. History is to him a drama rapidly approaching its denouement, and in the great convulsions which were shaking the foundations of the political world he hears the footsteps of the Almighty marching onwards to a day of crisis and final hope for humanity. And thus Jehovah “reigns supreme alike in the realm of nature, and the sphere of human history; and the crash of kingdoms, the total dissolution of the old order of the Hebrew world, which accompanied the advance of Assyria, is to the prophet nothing else than the crowning proof of Jehovah’s absolute dominion, asserting itself in the abasement of all that disputes His supremacy[23].”

[23] Robertson Smith, Prophets, p. 226.

Such appear to be the leading elements in Isaiah’s conception of God. Special applications of them will meet us when we come to consider the relations between Jehovah and Israel. Other attributes than those mentioned are of course frequently referred to, for example, wisdom (Isaiah 28:29; Isaiah 31:2), jealousy or zeal (Isaiah 9:7), anger and the like. Judicial righteousness is directly connected with the idea of holiness in the remarkable sentence: “the holy God shall sanctify Himself (i.e. shew Himself holy) in righteousness” (Isaiah 5:16). But all such attributes are included in the personal, anthropomorphic idea of God which Isaiah shares with all the Old Testament writers. In spite of the infinite distance between God and man, expressed by the term holiness, it still remains true that the divine image in man is the basis of all religious relations between God and man, and that Jehovah cannot be rightly conceived, except as endowed with the attributes and even the emotions of moral personality. It is to be remarked, however, as characteristic of Isaiah that the sterner aspects of the divine character are those almost exclusively insisted upon. He never speaks of “love” or “kindness” as attributes of Jehovah. There is indeed a purpose of grace underlying all His dealings with men, and the thought is expressed that the Lord “waits” till He can have compassion on the people (Isaiah 30:18). But Jehovah’s message through Isaiah contains no note of yearning affection like that which melted the tender heart of Ho sea. We search his writings in vain for such pathetic images as the husband seeking with pure and unselfish love to reclaim the unfaithful wife from a life of shame and misery, or the father teaching his child to walk, holding it by its arms. To the strong nature of Isaiah, God reveals Himself as the absolute Sovereign, of an infinite majesty; and when He speaks through him to men it is always in accents of regal authority.

II. Jehovah and Israel

Like all the prophets, Isaiah bases his message to his country-men on the conception of a unique relation between Jehovah and the nation cf Israel. In virtue of this relation Jehovah is Israel’s God, and Israel is Jehovah’s people. These propositions express the two sides of what may be called the religious consciousness of the nation; and the prophets, although they may have given them an interpretation not understood by the bulk of their contemporaries, nevertheless assert the principle that Israel stands in a peculiar relation to Jehovah, and that in a special sense Jehovah is the God of Israel. And here we come upon a fact of primary importance in the prophetic view of religion, although it is one which it is difficult to state briefly in its full significance without one-sided exaggeration. Religion, as taught by the prophets, is not a matter between God and the individual soul, but between God and the nation. Israel is invariably conceived by them as a national unity, and frequently figured as a moral person, and it is this unity, embodied in the organisation of the state, which is the religious subject. Individual Israelites are, as a matter of course, bound to acknowledge and honour Jehovah in their conduct; but in all directly religious acts they appear as members of the nation; and all their relationships to God are determined by the fact that in their several spheres of life they belong to the community which is the immediate object of Jehovah’s regard. This is a truth which has to be constantly borne in mind in reading the prophets; the love or faith or obedience they require are faith and love and obedience on the part of the whole people in its corporate capacity, and the sins they denounce, though committed by individuals, are sins in which, in virtue of the principle of solidarity, the whole nation is implicated.

Isaiah’s sense of this peculiar relation of Jehovah to Israel is inseparably bound up with his general conceptions of the divine nature. The thought of God as the universal Sovereign is specialised in the idea of His kingship over Israel, an idea whose influence makes itself felt in the whole of the prophet’s activity. Israel is the immediate sphere of Jehovah’s royal functions, and it is in His name that Isaiah claims an authoritative voice in the direction of the affairs of the state. He speaks to his countrymen as one who has “seen the King” and has been commissioned to declare His will as the supreme law of the nation. Thus through the medium of the prophetic word the abstract doctrine of the divine sovereignty is translated into living and personal relations between Jehovah the King and Israel His kingdom. Similarly the supreme quality of holiness, or essential divinity, becomes a practical factor in religion through being brought to bear on Jehovah’s relation to His people. He is, to use a favourite title of Isaiah’s, “the Holy One of Israel[24],” i.e. the Holy Being who is the God of Israel. Here again Israel is conceived as the community within which Jehovah reveals Himself as He truly is, and by which His character as the Holy One is to be recognised, and exhibited to the world. The whole of Isaiah’s conception of national religion is summed up in the phrase to “sanctify the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 8:13, Isaiah 29:23); that is, to acknowledge and worship His Godhead, and to cherish towards Him the sentiment of fear and reverence which was impressed on the prophet’s own mind by the revelation of His holiness.

[24] The phrase is almost limited to the book of Isaiah, forming one of the linguistic links between the two great divisions of the book. Else-where it occurs only in Psalm 71:22; Psalm 78:41; Psalm 89:18; Jeremiah 50:29; Jeremiah 51:5; and, in a somewhat different form, in Ezekiel 39:7. There is little doubt, therefore, that it was first introduced by Isaiah.

The prophet’s judgment on the actual state of the nation is but the application of these principles to the religious and social problems of his time. The conviction of an irreconcilable breach between Jehovah and His people, which he shares with all the great pre-Exilic prophets, springs from his first personal contact with the awful holiness of Israel’s God. The immediate effect of the vision was to produce a sense, not merely of his own un-cleanness, but of the uncleanness of the whole actual life of the nation. He then realised what it was to “dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5); and when he returned to his place among men, with a conscience purified and quickened by what he had experienced, he had to bear witness of his fellow-countrymen that “their tongue and their doings were against Jehovah to provoke the eyes of His glory” (Isaiah 3:8). His own lips had been purged by contact with the fire which is the emblem of the divine holiness; but at the same time he learned that the only fire which could cleanse the unholy nation was the fire of judgment, which was to consume the base and worthless elements of the state till only the indestructible remnant, the holy seed, remained (Isaiah 6:13; cf. Isaiah 4:4 f.).

Thus the sense of Jehovah’s holiness has its counterpart in the conviction of Israel’s actual uncleanness, and it is important to observe how every article in Isaiah’s indictment of the nation runs back to this fundamental antithesis. The prevalent idolatry was a direct and open denial of His Godhead, a degrading of Him to the level of the “nonentities” of the heathen Pantheon. Religion, as conceived and practised by the ‘people, was not the heart-felt recognition of His holy character; the homage rendered to Him was purely formal, a “human tradition learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13), a profuse and elaborate sacrificial ritual (Isaiah 1:10-17). The grinding tyranny of the upper classes, joined as it was with corrupt administration of justice, was an abuse of the sacred trust delegated by the Holy King to the “elders and princes of His people” (Isaiah 3:13-15). Israel, the vineyard of Jehovah, is ravaged by those whom He had appointed to be its keepers, and when He “looked for judgment, behold bloodshed; and for righteousness, behold a cry” (Isaiah 5:7). The religious indifference, the scepticism, the luxury, the dissipation, of the statesmen and nobles, all proceed from the same root of insensibility to the claims of Jehovah’s holiness, or the reality of His divinity; and their pride in horses and chariots, in fortifications and armies, in skilled diplomacy and strong coalitions reveals their utter unbelief in the spiritual Power which rules the universe. In all these features of society the prophet reads the symptoms of a deep-seated national ungodliness and apostasy, of a people in veiled rebellion against its true Sovereign. “They have forsaken Jehovah, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger; they have apostatised and gone backward” (Isaiah 1:4). They are children in ungrateful and unnatural revolt against their Father (Isaiah 1:2, Isaiah 30:9). The alienation between Israel and its God is complete; Israel has forsaken Jehovah, and Jehovah has rejected His people (Isaiah 2:6).

There is one remarkable fact in Isaiah’s ministry that reveals a darker view of Israel’s spiritual condition than was expressed by any of his predecessors. He entered on his work in the full consciousness that the effect of his mission would be to seal the doom of his people (Isaiah 6:9 ff.). To many modern writers such a perception has seemed inconceivable in the case of a youthful prophet on the threshold of his public career; and it has been very generally held that this part of the vision is projected into the past from the disappointing experience of failure which came to the prophet some years later. But there is no justification for thus impugning the veracity of Isaiah’s narrative. There is nothing incredible in the thought that in that supreme moment of inspiration the conviction was flashed into his mind that a revelation of Jehovah’s holiness would be intolerable to the age in which he lived, so that the men he knew would be repelled and driven into deeper guilt and sin by every fresh disclosure of the mind and will of God. He saw, what perhaps no earlier teacher of Israel had seen, that the very clearness and fulness of the knowledge of God becomes a means of condemnation to men who have sunk so far that they love the darkness rather than the light. Thus while Amos speaks of a “famine of the word of the Lord” as the greatest calamity that could befal Israel, Isaiah grasps the deeper, though seemingly paradoxical truth, that a far more dangerous and testing experience lies in the exceeding abundance of the word of Jehovah, which is about to be vouchsafed to Israel[25].

[25] Duhm.

The profound truth of this intuition was repeatedly verified in Isaiah’s prophetic experience, and more than once he falls back on it, tracing the impenetrable hardness of the people to a judicial visitation of Jehovah. He did so when he retired defeated from his contest with Ahaz and the nation in the time of the Syro-Ephraimitic war, which was probably the occasion of the first publication of the vision. In still stronger language he characterises the storm of opposition which was roused against him by his denunciation of the Egyptian alliance in the reign of Sennacherib. “They say to the prophets … get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us” (Isaiah 30:11); and Isaiah ascribes their infatuation to the fact that “Jehovah has poured out on them a spirit of deep sleep, and closed their eyes and muffled their heads” (Isaiah 29:10).

Isaiah has been called the “prophet of Faith”; and the designation would be accurate if he were not the prophet of so many great thoughts besides. The idea that faith must be the ruling principle of political action for Israel, and is the indispensable condition of national salvation, is one to which he always attached supreme importance. There are three memorable sayings of his in which this truth is embodied, and which enable us to understand in what sense he used that great word of religion. These are: “if ye will not believe, ye shall not be established” (Isaiah 7:9); “he that believeth shall not make haste” (Isaiah 28:16,—see note on the verse); “in returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). These utterances seem to carry us into the very heart of Isaiah’s teaching, for they express that which was deepest in his own spiritual life. To him revelation was an articulate personal word from the living God, the Holy One whom he had seen in vision; and he received it with the unhesitating confidence due to a Being of infinite wisdom and power, declaring His purpose in absolute faithfulness and truth. Isaiah believed and therefore he spoke. And knowing thus by experience what it was to live by faith, he dared to ask of statesmen groping their way blindly in a difficult and intricate situation, not seeing for themselves the work of Jehovah nor the operation of His hands, that they too should exercise the same virtue of implicit trust in the God whose sovereign will was made known to them in the prophetic word. There is no manifestation of loyalty to the Divine King on which the prophet lays greater stress than this. The capacity for faith in this sense becomes the measure and test of the nation’s religious state; its refusal to believe is the final evidence that it is beyond the possibility of political salvation. Even when the fate of the people as a whole is sealed by the unbelief of its rulers, faith remains as the principle of individual religion for those who separate themselves from the sin of their generation. The spiritual community which Isaiah saw forming itself within the physical Israel was constituted by faith in his prophetic message, and when he says of himself that he will “wait for Jehovah” (Isaiah 8:17), he expresses at the same time the attitude of those who were his disciples. When in a later prophecy (Isaiah 28:16) he speaks of the foundation of God’s kingdom as already laid in Zion and promises safety to “him that believeth,” he clearly means that the impending judgment has no terrors for him who takes his stand on the sure word of Revelation.

III. Messianic Ideals

For the germ of Isaiah’s eschatology we must go back once more to his inaugural vision, and the idea of the “remnant,” which led to so many fruitful developments in the course of his ministry. The knowledge that a spiritual kernel of the nation would survive the successive waves of judgment was constantly present to the prophet’s mind, and led his thoughts forward to an ideal age in which that remnant should blossom out into the perfect kingdom of the Lord. His writings abound in glowing pictures of the glorious day towards which events are ripening. The general conception is that of a new and final order of things, in which Zion, as the seat of God’s kingdom of righteousness and peace, is the centre of light and blessing for the nations, and all nature becomes subservient to the needs of humanity. The representation includes features which are to our minds supernatural, although on the whole it may be said that (except in Isaiah 4:2-6) nature is merely idealised, through its evils being eliminated and its beneficent powers indefinitely enhanced. The later pictures especially (29 ff.) are bathed in an atmosphere of idyllic peace and happiness, the simple joys of rural life affording apparently to the aged prophet the best emblem of the perfect felicity reserved for the true people of Jehovah. For along with this line of thought there always goes the prophecy of a transformation of the national character. The evil-doer is rooted out of the community, the poor and afflicted rejoice in the Holy One of Israel, the spiritual blindness which was characteristic of the people is taken away; and the true knowledge of God is diffused through all ranks and classes of society (Isaiah 29:18 ff., Isaiah 30:19 ff.). The blessings of Jehovah’s government radiate from Israel to all the nations of the earth; “from Zion goes forth revelation and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-4). It is noteworthy that here and elsewhere (Isaiah 28:7, Isaiah 29:24 f.[26]) the nations are represented as retaining their political independence, and voluntarily submitting to the rule of Jehovah, whose just arbitrament supersedes war and brings in an era of universal peace. Finally it is to be remarked that this golden age is not conceived as a remote goal of history or the result of a long development, but as the immediate sequel of the prophet’s own age, following closely on the desolation caused by the Assyrian conquest. In the most brilliant of his Messianic visions Isaiah compares it to a great light breaking on the land, dissipating the darkness of the invasion, bringing victory and rejoicing and prosperity in its train (Isaiah 9:1 ff.).

[26] Possibly not Isaiah’s.

There is just one respect in which Isaiah’s doctrine of the Remnant may be supposed to have given a peculiar direction to his anticipation of the future as compared with that of other prophets. The salvation of the remnant is to be effected on the soil of Judah. Hence the idea of a captivity, though not altogether foreign to his thinking (see Isaiah 5:13), has not the religious significance which attaches to it in the prophecy of Hosea, or Jeremiah or Ezekiel. These prophets all appear to have regarded the Exile as the essential part of the discipline by which the conversion of Israel was to be effected, and they contemplated a captivity either of the entire nation or at least of that part of it with which the hope of the future lay. To Isaiah on the other hand captivity is a mere detail. The great redemption is to be wrought out within the land of Judah, and (in the later prophecies at least) by a deliverance of the capital from the power of the Assyrians. The “holy seed,” the nucleus of the new kingdom of God, remains in the land; and the continuity of the national history is never absolutely broken[27].

[27] The passage Isaiah 11:10 ff., which speaks of a return of exiles, is of doubtful genuineness; and one of the arguments against it is just the use of the word “remnant” for those who have gone into captivity.

The development of Isaiah’s conceptions of the future, so far as it can be traced, turns on two great central ideas round which all the elements of his Messianic predictions group themselves. One is the idea of the personal Messiah, and the other the doctrine of the inviolability of Zion.

1. The word “Messiah” (anointed one) is never used in the Old Testament in the special sense to which it has been consecrated by Jewish and Christian usage. But it is the most appropriate term for that conception of an ideal King of the house of David, which so far as appears originated with Isaiah, and which proved to be the most perfect of all types of the Kingdom of God to be found in prophecy. The prophecies of Isaiah where the figure of this ideal King appears are ch. Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 11:1-9 and Isaiah 32:1 ff. (cf. also Isaiah 33:17). It is unfortunate that the dates of these passages cannot be determined with any degree of certainty. The prevalent view has been that they stand in chronological order, the first belonging to the reign of Ahaz, the second to an early period of Hezekiah’s reign, and the last to the time of Sennacherib’s invasion. But this view rests mainly on the assumption that they belong historically to the groups of discourses in which they occur, an assumption which is insufficiently supported by internal indications and hardly justified by a literary analysis of the book. Hence it is impossible to trace with confidence the history of the idea in Isaiah’s mind or to fix the time when it was first disclosed to him. Another difficulty arises in connexion with the Immanuel prophecy of ch. Isaiah 7:14-16. If it could be assumed that in the mind of Isaiah the child Immanuel was identified with the child of Isaiah 9:6 f., and was therefore the destined sovereign of his people, it would go far to explain the genesis of the conception of the ideal representative of the Davidic dynasty. At that moment Ahaz must have appeared to the prophet an incarnation of all that the King of Israel should not be, and although the child Immanuel is not expressly connected with the house of David, the idea that he was to take the place of the worthless and incompetent monarch to whom the sign was given is nevertheless suggested by the circumstances of the prophecy (see note on Isaiah 7:14-16). It is at least a remarkable coincidence that both here and in Isaiah 9:6 the destiny of the nation is made to turn on the birth of a child, and even if with most recent authorities we reject the Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 7:14, there will still remain a presumption that the two passages stand near to each other in time. If this conclusion be correct it follows that the image of the ideal Ruler first dawned on Isaiah’s mind in the dark days when he saw the ruin of his country accelerated by the weakness and unbelief of the reigning king.

It has been remarked that the three great portraits of the Messiah, taken in the order in which they stand, exhibit a progressive waning of the mysterious aspects of His character, until at last the ideal seems to fade into the light of common day. It is undoubtedly the fact that the attributes’ and pre-rogatives of the King come to be presented in more sober and subdued colours and in less exalted language. In Isaiah 9:6, he is endowed with attributes bordering on the divine; his fourfold name expressing some extraordinary and mysterious relation to Jehovah. He is called “Wonderful Counsellor, Hero-God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace.” In Isaiah 11:1 ff., he is described as the shoot from the stock of Jesse, and as one uniquely endowed with the spirit of Jehovah for the perfect discharge of his kingly functions. And in Isaiah 32:1 he appears simply as an ordinary good king, reigning in righteousness and associated with princes of a like spirit ruling in judgment.

These facts no doubt suggest questions of some interest and difficulty. But the sense of disparity between the different representations is relieved by two considerations which have to be borne in mind in dealing with Isaiah’s conception of the Messiah. In the first place, the thought of the Messianic King never replaces or overshadows in Isaiah’s mind the primary truth of Jehovah’s kingship over Israel The earthly king is the representative of Jehovah and rules in His name, but he is not himself conceived as a superhuman person, or as sharing the divine nature in a transcendental sense. This is clear as regards the second of the three passages (Isaiah 11:1 ff.) where the ideal perfection of the Messiah’s government is ascribed simply to his possession of the fulness of the spirit of Jehovah which imparts to him the insight, the energy, and the piety necessary for his high office. And this is in accordance with the common teaching of the Old Testament that the source of all kingly virtues, as indeed of all capacity for noble and heroic action, is the spirit of the Lord, resting on men chosen by God for great achievements in His kingdom. Nor does the language of Isaiah 9:6 f. when fairly interpreted imply that the new king is more than human. What is there described is neither the person of the Messiah nor his character, but the divine powers that come to light in his government. There is no reason to think that even the great titles there bestowed on him, marvellously as they foreshadow the Christian doctrine of the Person of Christ, expressed to Isaiah’s age anything more than this. When we read that his name shall be called “Hero-God,” or “Everlasting Father,” we are not to understand these terms as conveying the idea that he is a God-man, or possesses the metaphysical attributes of omnipotence and eternity. All the four names denote aspects of the Messiah’s rule, which is itself, in virtue of his unique relation to God, the perfect embodiment and reflection of Jehovah’s kingship over Israel and the world. His relation to Jehovah is, in short, simply the ideal relation of a king of Israel to Jehovah, and the only new thing is the completeness with which that ideal is to be realised through his endowment with the spirit of God. Now it is possible that Isaiah may have had a deeper sense at one time than at others of the exceptional qualities required for the exercise of the functions of kingship, and this may account for the difference of tone which characterises his utterances at different periods. But a radical change of view does not appear to exist, when we remember that from first to last his outlook was towards one who should fully realise the divine ends for which the monarchy existed in Israel.

The second thing to be observed is that in Isaiah’s vision of the future the monarchy itself is but one institution among many, and presupposes a political organisation after the fashion of the existing Hebrew commonwealth. Hence there could be no incongruity, from the prophet’s point of view, in thinking of the Messianic king as surrounded by an aristocracy, who cooperate with him in securing a just administration of the reconstructed state (Isaiah 32:1). A reform of the upper classes was an issue of the judgment on which Isaiah laid great stress from an early period of his work (Isaiah 1:26); and there is nothing to suggest that he ever lost sight of this, although he afterwards attached greater importance to the person of the king. It is true that in Isaiah 32:1 the person of the king is not invested with the halo of divine attributes spoken of in ch. 9 and 11; and this might seem to shew that the passage ought not to be classed amongst the prophecies of a personal Messiah. But that is a view which cannot be held, unless we go further and say that Isaiah had definitely abandoned the idea of the Messiah when he wrote ch. 32. The picture is in any case a picture of the Messianic age, and the king in the Messianic age is the Messiah, if the prophet retained his faith in a Messiah at all, which there is no sufficient reason to doubt. And in fact when he speaks of a king reigning in righteousness, he includes what is essential in his conception of the ideal King; for it is just the perfect discharge of the recognised duties of kingship which Isaiah regards as a task of such transcendent importance as to require the unique endowment of divine energies and virtues which is the distinctive element in his more ideal delineations of the Messiah.

2. The two ideas that Zion is the present seat of Jehovah’s sovereignty and that it is to be the centre of the future kingdom of God appear in a large number of prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:26 f., Isaiah 2:2-4, Isaiah 4:2-6, Isaiah 8:18, Isaiah 10:32 f., Isaiah 14:32, Isaiah 18:7, Isaiah 28:16, Isaiah 29:1, Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 30:29, [Isaiah 33:5; Isaiah 33:14; Isaiah 33:20 f.,] Isaiah 37:32). In these there is nothing that is peculiar to Isaiah and little that requires explanation. It was in the Temple that he first saw the glory of Jehovah, and the thought that He dwelt there seems to have been always present to his mind. And the further thought that Zion would occupy the same central position in the ideal age as in the present is a natural and inevitable consequence of the general principle that the future dispensation is always represented under forms derived from the present.

But there is a particular application of these truths which is not only distinctive of Isaiah, but apparently limited to a certain period of his ministry. It is that Zion as Jehovah’s sanctuary is inviolable, that it shall be spared in the impending crisis of judgment, and form the refuge for those who are saved from the wreck of the nation, so that its sanctity becomes, along with the permanence of the Davidic kingdom, a pledge of the indestructibility of the Jewish state. This concrete form of the principle does not appear to have been held by the prophet at the outset of his public life, for in ch. Isaiah 5:14; Isaiah 5:17 the destruction of Jerusalem seems to be distinctly contemplated. Nor is it clear that it was enunciated even in the crisis of the Syro-Ephraimitish war, although the allusion to the waters of Shiloah as an emblem of Jehovah’s invisible sovereignty and the emphasis laid on Jehovah’s dwelling in Zion (Isaiah 8:6; Isaiah 8:18) may perhaps point in this direction. The first unambiguous expression of it is probably to be found in Isaiah 14:32, where we read that “Jehovah hath founded Zion and there the poor of His people find refuge.” From this time onwards Isaiah seems to have held to the truth as the sheet anchor of his prophecy. We have seen already how largely it determined his attitude in the Assyrian invasion, and how signally his confidence was justified by the event. The assault on the sanctuary of Zion is the crowning insult of the Assyrian to the majesty of Jehovah, and by His protection of Jerusalem Jehovah gives to the world the demonstration of His divinity which as Isaiah anticipated would be speedily followed by the establishment of His everlasting kingdom. It must be admitted, however, that there is considerable uncertainty as to the precise sense in which Isaiah maintained this doctrine, and the range which he allowed to it, even in this last stage of his work. There is one oracle, usually assigned to this period (Isaiah 32:9 ff.), which seems to amount to a prediction of the total overthrow of Jerusalem, and for this reason is pronounced spurious by many critics, and by one at least is assigned to the opening of his career. And in other passages threats are uttered (esp. Isaiah 22:1 ff., Isaiah 29:1 ff.) which appear to contemplate an equally sweeping catastrophe. The difficulty is to know how much is implied in the idea of the sanctity of Zion; how far it is equivalent to the actual preservation of the fortress of Jerusalem, and how far it is a spiritual fact symbolising the safety of those who in that hour of trial placed their faith in Jehovah’s invisible power. The prophet may not have held an unvarying view on this point, and it is possible that the doctrine of the inviolability of Jerusalem was not to his mind the hard and fast dogma which it has become in the hands of his commentators.


The Character and Genius of Isaiah

The possibilities of the prophetic office are nowhere more splendidly illustrated than in the career of Isaiah. Called in early manhood to the service of Jehovah, he gave himself to his mission with a whole-hearted devotion and singleness of aim which suffered no abatement in the course of a long and strenuous life. The work of a prophet was the vocation of his life, and every faculty of his being, every source of influence open to him, his social position and even the incidents of his private history, were all made subservient to the one end of impressing the mind of God on his generation. And to this task he brought a nature richly endowed with gifts belonging to the highest order of genius. He is great alike in thought and action, and unites the profoundest religious insight with a wide knowledge of men and affairs. If any single quality can be selected as specially prominent in Isaiah it is an imperious and masterful decision of character which makes him perfectly unhesitating in his judgments and inexorable in his demands. But more remarkable than any one feature is the balance and harmonious working of powers rarely combined in a single individual. In the union of statesmanlike sagacity with impassioned and dignified oratory he may be compared with some of the greatest names in the history of republican Rome; but Isaiah had, besides, the rapt vision of the seer and the fervour of religious enthusiasm. We must not be afraid to think of him as a ‘visionary.’ His perceptions of spiritual truth were such as we call intuitive and were frequently accompanied by experiences of an ecstatic kind. Although but one vision is recorded (ch. 6) he uses several expressions which point to extraordinary mental processes as the form in which the will of Jehovah was communicated to him. He speaks of himself as being in the “grasp of the (divine) hand” (Isaiah 8:11); and of Jehovah of Hosts as revealed “in his ears” (Isaiah 5:9, Isaiah 22:14): phrases which probably indicate that throughout life Isaiah was guided by that mysterious operation of the divine Spirit which appears to have been common to all the prophets. But whilst himself overmastered by the convictions that were thus conveyed to him, he manifests the most complete self-possession in the application of these truths to the circumstances of his time. In action as in speech he ever proves himself the sanest of men. His political vision is clear and untroubled, his judgment unerring, his maxims invariably reasonable and wise. “Never perhaps has there been another prophet like Isaiah, who stood with his head in the clouds and his feet on the solid earth, with his heart in the things of eternity and with mouth and hand in the things of time, with his spirit in the eternal counsel of God and his body in a very definite moment of history[28].”

[28] Valeton, Vierlal Voorlezingen, p. 33.

The literary quality most conspicuous in the writings of Isaiah is the wealth and brilliancy of his imagination. His thought constantly and spontaneously blossoms into imagery, and the images are no mere rhetorical embellishments but are always impressive in themselves and always the appropriate and natural expression of his idea. No other Old Testament writer has the same power of picturesque and graphic description, or has at command such a variety of distinct and vivid impressions from nature. His memory is stored with simple and homely pictures of rustic life, and these rise to his mind invested with a singular dignity and charm in the light of some inspiring and lofty idea. The reapers in the valley of Rephaim, and the beating of the olive trees (Isaiah 27:5 f.), the ox and ass faithful to their master’s stable (Isaiah 1:3), the lion growling over his prey and defying the posse of shepherds gathered against him (Isaiah 31:4), the subtle rent spreading downwards in the wall until it falls with a sudden and terrible crash (Isaiah 30:13 f.), the deserted hut of the vineyard-watchers after the vintage is past (Isaiah 1:8): these are some of the images which his poet’s eye had gathered from scenes familiar to every native of Palestine. Nor does Isaiah’s imagination fail him when he passes from the familiar to the stupendous, and calls up the destructive agencies of nature to set forth the awful terrors of the day of Jehovah. The forest conflagration (Isaiah 9:18, Isaiah 10:16), the inundating flood of waters (Isaiah 8:7 f.), the thunderstorm (Isaiah 30:30 f.), the earthquake (Isaiah 2:12 ff.) furnish him with emblems, strikingly effective, of the final catastrophe in which the existing order of things is to perish. On the other hand, there is a peculiar charm in the indistinctness of the descriptions of the latter days, where images of earthly comfort and security shade away imperceptibly into suggestions of a new creation, in which to our minds there is more of heaven than earth.

As a master of style Isaiah is supreme among the prophets; the only one with whom he can be compared being his predecessor Amos. While others seem conscious of the labour of expression, he wields the resources of the language with the ease and dexterity of a perfect artist in words. There is an astonishing directness and sureness of touch in his phrase, as of one who knows when he has hit the mark and does not need to strike a second time. The high level of literary excellence maintained in the prophecies depends largely on the fact that they faithfully preserve (though doubtless with some condensation) all the effects of the spoken word. The style is one obviously formed for the purposes of the orator, who must carry his audience with him at the moment, trusting nothing to a sustained effort of attention on their part. Hence it is absolutely free from affectations and obscurities; and even the fondness for paronomasia which is often attributed to Isaiah is really shewn very sparingly and never without telling oratorical effect. The poetic form in which the oracles are usually cast affords no presumption against this view of their origin; for in Hebrew the formal difference between poetry and prose is much less marked than with us, and all impassioned and elevated speech readily falls into the simple rhythmic structure characteristic of Hebrew poetry. It would hardly be possible to characterize the style of Isaiah better than by the four notes under which Matthew Arnold has summed up the distinctive qualities of Homer’s genius: Plainness of thought, Plainness of style, Nobleness, and Rapidity. Enough has perhaps been suggested to illustrate the aptness with which each of these terms may be applied to Isaiah. In this case, as in others, the style is the man; and in the plainness, and nobleness, and rapidity of Isaiah’s recorded discourses we read the signature of the glowing and impetuous nature, the lucid intellect, and the quick decision of character which made this prophet so great a force in the history of his time.


Probable Composition of the Book of Isaiah—Contents of Ch. 1–39

The book which bears the name of Isaiah is in reality a collection of prophetic oracles, shewing manifest traces of composite authorship, and having a complicated literary history behind it. Not much less than two-thirds of its bulk consists of anonymous prophecies, all of which (with the probable exception of ch. 15 f. and the possible exception of ch. Isaiah 2:1-4) are of an age long subsequent to that of Isaiah. To this class belongs first of all the whole of the latter part of the book, commencing with ch. 40, the date and authorship of which will be fully dealt with in the Introduction to the second volume of this commentary. But even when we confine our attention to ch. 1–39 we still find abundant evidences of great diversity of authorship. Excluding the narrative section (ch. 36–39) it is estimated that of the prophetic chapters (1–35) a little over two-thirds is occupied by genuine prophecies of Isaiah. In the following synopsis, passages which are probably to be assigned to other writers than Isaiah are marked by an asterisk; for the grounds on which this conclusion rests in each case, as well as for the dates attached to the Isaianic oracles, the reader must be referred to the Introductory Notes on the several sections.


This first part of the Book of Isaiah naturally falls into four main divisions: (A) ch. 1–12; (B) ch. 13–27; (C) ch. 28–35; (D) ch. 36–39. Of these the first three must have circulated as separate books, while the last is mainly an extract from the second book of Kings.

A. Ch. 1–12. A volume of discourses mainly (though not exclusively) concerning “Judah and Jerusalem,” as stated in the superscription (ch. Isaiah 1:1). The grouping of the oracles seems to shew that the book was formed by the amalgamation of several minor collections.

i. Ch. 1 is an introductory oracle setting forth the grounds of Jehovah’s controversy with Israel. Its date may be the close of the Syro-Ephraimitic war (c. 734), although the first part (vv. 1–17) is assigned by many critics to the time of Sennacherib (701).

ii. Ch. 2–4 A résumé of the very earliest discourses of Isaiah (Isaiah 2:6 to Isaiah 4:1), with a prologue (Isaiah 2:2-4) and an epilogue (Isaiah 4:2-6), both of Messianic import. The new title (Isaiah 2:1) suggests that this short collection once existed separately.

iii. Ch. Isaiah 5:1-24 (somewhat later than the preceding) contains the parable of the vineyard (1–7) followed by a series of woes against the prevalent sins of the upper classes (8–24).

iv. Ch. Isaiah 5:25-30 is the misplaced conclusion of the oracle against Northern Israel (see vi. below).

v. Ch. 6–9:7 a series of discourses written for the most part in the crisis of the Syro-Ephraimitic invasion, and probably published shortly after that event. It consists of:

(1) A preface (ch. 6), describing Isaiah’s inaugural vision of God and consecration to the prophetic office.

(2) An account of the prophet’s eventful interview with Ahaz, and prophecies arising out of it (ch. 7).

(3) Further accounts of the prophet’s activity during this period (ch. 8).

(4) A prophecy of the Messianic deliverance and the coming of the Prince of Peace (ch. Isaiah 9:1-7).

vi. Ch. Isaiah 9:8 to Isaiah 10:4 (and Isaiah 5:25-30). Announcement of the impending ruin of the kingdom of Ephraim (written perhaps before the alliance with Syria).

vii. Ch. Isaiah 10:5-34. An oracle dealing with the mission and fate of Assyria. The most probable date is the beginning of the reign of Sennacherib (c. 704).

viii. Ch. 11. Two Messianic prophecies.

(1) vv. 1–9. The Messiah and his kingdom,—possibly the conclusion of ch. 10; otherwise the date is uncertain.

*(2) vv. 10–16. The Return of Exiled Israelites from all quarters of the earth.

*ix. Ch. 12 forms a lyrical epilogue to the book (A).

B. Ch. 13–27. A series of prophecies by various authors, mostly dealing with foreign nations.

*(i) Ch. 13–14:23. On the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus (written towards the close of the Exile).

(2) Ch. Isaiah 14:24-32. Two oracles of Isaiah’s, one (apparently a fragment, vv. 24–27) announcing the destruction of Assyria, the other (vv. 28–32) directed against the Philistines. The last is dated in the year of Ahaz’s death; the other probably belongs to the same time as ch. Isaiah 10:5 ff.

(3) Ch. 15, 16. On Moab. It is probably the work of an unknown early writer, revised with a postscript (Isaiah 16:13 f.) by Isaiah.

(4) Ch. Isaiah 17:1-11. On the overthrow of Damascus and North Israel (written at the time of the alliance between the two powers in the reign of Ahaz).

(5) Ch. Isaiah 17:12-14. The destruction of the Assyrians (date uncertain).

(6) Ch. 18. The same subject, in the form of a charge to Ethiopian ambassadors (from the beginning of Sennacherib’s reign).

(7) Ch. 19. On Egypt. The date cannot be determined. The last part (vv. 16–25) is possibly a post-exilic addition.

(8) Ch. 20. On the fate of Egypt at the hands of the Assyrians. The date is 711.

*(9) Ch. 21. Three oracles, on Babylon (vv. 1–10), on Edom (vv. 11, 12), and Arabia (vv. 13–17). Probably written near the end of the Exile.

(10) Ch. Isaiah 22:1-14. A rebuke addressed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem at the crisis of the Assyrian invasion (701).

(11) Ch. Isaiah 22:15-25. A philippic against a high court official named Shebna; probably from the time of Isaiah’s opposition to the alliance with Egypt.

(12) Ch. 23. On Tyre. The date is probably either in the reign of Shalmaneser (c. 727) or that of Sennacherib. The appendix (vv., 15–18) appears to be post-exilic.

*(13) Ch. 24–27. A long eschatological prophecy of the world-judgment and the blessedness of Israel lying beyond it. The date is much disputed, but on the whole the most probable view seems to be that it belongs to the 4th century b.c.

C. Ch. 28–35. A collection of oracles issued (so far as they are Isaianic) during the invasion of Sennacherib.

i. Ch. 28 consists of three sections:

(1) vv. 1–6. Announcement of the fall of Samaria (written therefore before 722, but probably republished as a preface to this group).

(2) vv. 7–22. An encounter between Isaiah and the dissolute courtiers of Jerusalem, with related oracles.

(3) vv. 23–29. A parable of Jehovah’s providential dealings with Israel.

ii. Ch. 29 contains

(1) A prediction of the humiliation and ultimate deliverance of Jerusalem (vv. 1–8).

(2) A rebuke of the spiritual blindness and hardness of the people (vv. 9–14).

(3) An allusion to the conspiracy with Egypt, passing abruptly into a description of the ideal future age (vv. 15–24).

iii. Ch. 30 consists of four sections:

(1) A woe against the promoters of the Egyptian alliance (vv. 1–7).

(2) Isaiah’s written protest against this step and the irreligious state of mind from which it proceeds (vv. 8–17).

(3) A picture of the Messianic age (vv. 18–26).

(4) A judgment scene on the Assyrian king and army (vv. 27–33).

iv. Ch. 31. A renewed denunciation of the Egyptian treaty (vv. 1–4); followed by a promise of mercy to Israel and a threat against Assyria (vv. 5–9).

v. Ch. Isaiah 32:1-8. A picture of the ideal common wealth of the Messianic age.

vi. Ch. Isaiah 32:9-20. A censure of the careless demeanour of the women of Jerusalem (vv. 9–14); passing again into a picture of the blessedness of the future (vv. 15–20).

*vii. Ch. 33. A woe against an unnamed oppressor, the writer rising, through prayer, to the anticipation of the glories of the perfect kingdom of God.

*viii. Ch. 34, 35. A prophecy of vengeance on Edom and of the future blessedness of Israel. (Post-exilic.)

D. *Ch. 36–39. A historical section, narrating:

(1) Sennacherib’s demand for the surrender of Jerusalem (ch. 36 f.).

(2) Hezekiah’s sickness and cure (ch. 38).

(3) The embassy of Merodach-baladan (ch. 39).

If we compare this analysis with the sketch of Isaiah’s career given above (pp. xxv ff.) it is at once obvious that the book as a whole shews no consistent attempt at chronological arrangement. Not only are the anonymous prophecies interspersed amongst those of Isaiah, but even the genuine discourses of Isaiah stand in an entirely different order from that in which they were uttered. We observe further that the Isaianic material is unequally distributed over the principal divisions of the book. While A and C are in the main homogeneous (the anonymous passages occurring only at the end, where we might expect them[29]), in B the Isaianic oracles are scattered indiscriminately through the collection and occupy a much smaller proportion of the whole. These facts, together with the obviously composite structure of A point irresistibly to the conclusion that the book of Isaiah has reached its present form through protracted editorial processes, the details of which we can never hope to trace.

[29] It is right to state, however, that several other passages in C are denied to Isaiah by a considerable number of recent critics: especially Isaiah 30:27-33, Isaiah 32:1-20. Some even have gone so far as to dispute the genuineness of all the promises of salvation found in this section.

In explanation of this somewhat surprising result of criticism it may be desirable to call attention to a general characteristic of prophecy which ought here to be kept in mind. The prophets (at least the pre-exilic prophets) were in the first instance not writers of books but public orators and statesmen. While they availed themselves of literature as a means of preserving the substance of their teaching, they relied chiefly on the immediate effect of their spoken words; and the methods by which their discourses were reduced to writing naturally varied with different prophets, or even with the same prophet at different times. In some cases little more than rough notes of the speeches might be preserved, in others they must have been carefully worked up into finished artistic compositions. Whether a particular prophet was ever led to prepare a complete edition of his prophecies depended on the exigencies of his individual position. In the case of Jeremiah we have an instructive account of the circumstances in which, under special divine direction, he addressed himself to this task (ch. 36); and the volume then written doubtless formed the basis of all subsequent editions of the book of Jeremiah. Nothing exactly similar to this is recorded of Isaiah; but he appears to have followed the practice of issuing carefully written digests of his oral teaching at important junctures of his ministry. These separate rolls, and perhaps other prophecies which he had never given to the public at all, were probably treasured by his disciples and handed down to subsequent generations, until they ultimately found a place in one or other of the collections of which the present book is composed.

Of these aggregates the most interesting and the most complex is the first (A, ch. 1–12). The nucleus of the collection was probably the important volume written by Isaiah at the time of the Syro-Ephraimitic war (see above p. xxxi); including originally perhaps ch. 6–8:18, to which Isaiah 8:19 to Isaiah 9:7 was added as a supplement. To this two earlier rolls (2–4 and 5) were prefixed, for chronological reasons; the displacement of Isaiah 5:25-30 was probably accidental and must have taken place while the oracles were still detached. The great oracle on North Israel (also of early date) was placed where it stands because it does not bear on the destiny of Judah; and it is naturally followed by the prophecy on Assyria (Isaiah 10:5-34), to which the Messianic passage ch. Isaiah 11:1-9 may have already been attached. Ch. 1 owes its position to its comprehensive character, and its obvious suitability to form an introduction to any volume of Isaiah’s prophecies. Thus far the collection might have been completed not long after the death of Isaiah; but the addition of the late passages Isaiah 9:10 to Isaiah 11:6 appears to indicate that the volume existed separately till a time subsequent to the Exile.

The third collection (C, ch. 28–35) must have had a history somewhat similar, though less intricate. It probably originated with what Isaiah is recorded to have written when he retired defeated from the contest with the Egyptian party at court (see above, p. xxxviii). How many of the present prophecies were included in this publication cannot of course be determined with certainty; but it doubtless contained all those referring to the Egyptian alliance, and therefore most of what we now read in ch. 28–31. Ch. 32 may have been added afterwards, and ch. 33–35 belong in all likelihood to the post-exilic age.

The intermediate collection (B, ch. 13–27) is of a different character. It is a series of miscellaneous oracles, most of them furnished with specific headings, in which the word massa (A.V. “burden”) regularly occurs—a term found nowhere else in the book except in ch. Isaiah 30:6 [30]. There is, indeed, no reason to suppose that in the intention of the compiler it was restricted to prophecies of Isaiah, although the fact that the first happened to bear his name naturally caused the whole to be attributed to him. Since with one exception (ch. 15 f.) the non-Isaianic passages are of exilic or post-exilic date, the collection cannot have been formed till a late period. It is not quite certain that the long apocalyptic prophecy of ch. 24–27 belonged to this group, although its position, at the close of a cycle of oracles dealing with the heathen world is somewhat in favour of this hypothesis. If so, the book must have been distinct from A and C down to a very late date, for if the three had been amalgamated, ch. 24 ff. would have found its appropriate place at the close, alongside of 34 f.

[30] The peculiar enigmatic titles of Isaiah 21:1; Isaiah 21:11 (? 13), Isaiah 22:1 (Isaiah 30:6), have been thought to point to the existence of a prior group embracing these five prophecies; but the indication is too slight to throw much light on the growth of the collection.

The historical section (D) may be assumed to have been added as an appendix to the other three after they had been united. Thus for the first time all the scattered remains of Isaiah’s work were brought within the compass of a single volume, which must again have for a time had a separate existence, until finally it was combined with the great prophecy of ch. 40–66.

An inferior limit for the redaction of the book of Isaiah is furnished by the work of Jesus the son of Sirach, written as is generally supposed about 200 b.c. In Sir 48:23-25 we read that “in his (Isaiah’s) days the sun went backward and he added life to the king. He saw by an excellent spirit what should come to pass at the last; and he comforted them that mourned in Zion. He shewed the things that should be to the end of time, and the hidden things or ever they came.” These references appear to imply that the writer read Isaiah 36-39, 40-66 as parts of one book; and as ch. 36–39 have no meaning apart from 1–35, it is a tolerably safe conclusion that the book of Isaiah was known in its present form in the beginning of the 2nd century b.c. Before this we have no literary evidence of the existence of the Book. Although the Chronicler (writing about a century earlier) mentions Isaiah as an author (2 Chronicles 26:22; 2 Chronicles 32:32), his statements do not appear to have any reference to the book of his prophecies. It is doubtful if either passage means more than that Isaiah was regarded as the writer of the contemporary annals of the kings of Judah. But in the time of the son of Sirach the prophetical Canon was probably already completed, and the separate books of which it is composed must be at least of somewhat higher antiquity.

The canonicity of Isaiah was never questioned by the Jewish Church in later times. There is, however, a curious divergence of tradition with regard to its place amongst the prophetic scriptures. The order of the E.V., where the book stands first among the “Later Prophets” (the strictly prophetic writings) is that of all printed editions of the Hebrew Bible, as well as of the Masora and the best MSS. In the LXX. it stands first amongst the Major Prophets, but is preceded by the so-called Minor Prophets. A still more peculiar arrangement is given by the Talmudic treatise Baba bathra (fol. 14 b), where the order is: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Twelve (minor) Prophets. It has been thought by some that this arrangement betrays a dim consciousness of the late authorship of the second part of the book, which is possible, although the Jewish authorities know nothing of it, and explain the traditional order by reasoning of a somewhat nebulous kind. (For full details on this subject see Ryle, Canon of the Old Testament, pp. 273 ff., 281 f.).

*** As the plan of this series does not admit of regular citation of authorities, a list is here given of the principal works on Isaiah consulted in the preparation of the commentary: The Commentaries of Vitringa (1724), Gesenius (1821), Hitzig (1833), Cheyne (5th Ed. 1889), Breden-kamp (1887), Delitzsch (4th Ed. 1889), Dillmann (1890), Duhm (1892). Ewald, Propheten des Alten Bundes, Vol. I. (2nd Ed. 1867). Strachey, Jewish History and Politics, &c. (2nd Ed. 1874). W. R. Smith, The Prophets of Israel (1882, Revised Ed. 1895). Guthe, Das Zukunftsbild des Jesaias (1885). Driver, Isaiah: his Life and Times (2nd Ed. 1893). G. A. Smith, The Book of Isaiah [Expositor’s Bible], Vol. 1. (1889). Kirkpatrick, The Doctrine of the Prophets (1892). Hackmann, Die Zukunftserwartung des Jesaia (1893). Cheyne, Introduction to the Book of Isaiah (1895).


It is an accepted principle amongst modern historians and critics that a true chronology of the Hebrew kingdom must be based on the synchronisms established by the Assyrian monuments. From a very early time the Assyrians followed the system of naming each year after a high official of the empire; continuous lists of these eponyms were kept and have been discovered; and in these lists (the so-called Eponym Canon) we have a complete guide to Assyrian chronology, the accuracy of which has been confirmed by every test to which it has been subjected. The Old Testament writers, on the other hand (at the time with which we are concerned), proceed on no fixed chronological system; their statements are frequently at variance with each other, and the attempt to treat them as absolute historical data often leads to inextricable confusion. In these circumstances there is no course open to us but to accept the evidence of the cuneiform inscriptions so far as it is available, and to fill in the details of the scheme as best we may. The most probable results are given in the annexed Table, where events that can be dated from Assyrian records are distinguished by italics. The figures are in some instances only approximate; and there are two dates of importance for Isaiah’s biography, with regard to which it seems impossible to arrive at any certain conclusion.

(1) The first is the year of Uzziah’s death, which is also the year of Isaiah’s call (ch. Isaiah 6:1). From 2 Kings 15:7 we learn that Uzziah (Azariah) was succeeded by his son Jotham, to whom a reign of 16 years is assigned (v. 33). Since we know (Isaiah 7:1) that Ahaz was on the throne in 735, this appears at first sight to give, as the lowest possible date for the death of Uzziah, the year 751. But if, as is probably the case, Jotham’s 16 years were reckoned from the time when he assumed the regency on account of his father’s leprosy (2 Kings 15:5), we are really left without information as to the length of his independent reign or the date of Uzziah’s death. The date given in the table (710) is an approximation merely. It cannot be brought much lower than this, because in 735 Isaiah is accompanied by a son, whose name, embodying an idea of the opening vision, shews that he must have been born after the prophet’s call. Nor on the other hand can it be placed much higher without throwing the events of 701 into the extreme old age of Isaiah. The chief point that awaits elucidation is the supposed mention of Uzziah by Tiglath-pileser in 739 or 738 (see above, p. xii). If this reference should be ultimately established, the time of Isaiah’s call will be settled within very narrow limits indeed.

(2) A much more intricate problem is presented by the second controverted date, that of Hezekiah’s accession. The difficulty here arises from the discrepancy of the biblical data. The two chief passages are:

(a) 2 Kings 18:10, where the fall of Samaria (c. 721) is said to have taken place in the sixth year of Hezekiah;

(b) 2 Kings 18:13, where the year of Sennacherib’s invasion (701) is given as the fourteenth of Hezekiah.

If a be correct Hezekiah ascended the throne about 727, if b be right, about 715. The dates of the siege of Samaria and the invasion of Judah being unassailable, there is no possibility of harmonising these two statements; we must make our choice between them[31]. Now, if we consider the two statements by themselves, it will certainly appear less likely that the mistake should be in a than in b. For if a be right, the error in b would be only in the numeral, whereas if b be right both the figures and the name of the king in a must be false; and it would argue an almost incredible degree of carelessness in a historian to assign so important an event as the fall of Samaria to the wrong reign. The case, however, is not quite so simple as this. The date b is bound up with the story of Hezekiah’s sickness and the extension of his life for 15 years (2 Kings 20:6), and this again is closely connected with the ascription to him of a total reign of 29 years (Isaiah 18:2). Hence a mere alteration of the numeral in b (say 14 into 24) would not really meet the difficulties, for the Numbers 14, 15, 29 are obviously so related that we cannot challenge one of them without challenging a second. That is to say, if Hezekiah reigned 29 years, and if Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled, then his 14th year must be the true date of his sickness; and it makes no difference whether the compiler got it from tradition or arrived at it by an easy calculation of his own. Now this suggests a probable explanation of the date in Numbers 18:13. It has been inserted by an editor who assumed that Hezekiah’s sickness coincided with the time of Sennacherib’s invasion, whereas in reality the events were separated by an interval of 12 years. Such a mistake was a natural inference from the juxtaposition of the two incidents in the separate source whence these narratives were transcribed first in the books of Kings (1 Kings 18:13 to 1 Kings 20:19) and then in the book of Isaiah (36, 39). (See Introductory Notes to these chapters.) It is not improbable indeed that in the process a transposition of the narratives was effected, Isaiah 38 f. having originally stood before 36 f. But however that may be, everything points to the conclusion that the 14th year of Hezekiah is the correct date of his sickness and Merodach-baladan’s embassy, but erroneous when transferred to Sennacherib’s invasion.

[31] Winckler, however (whom Cheyne seems disposed to follow), rejects both in favour of 2 Kings 16:2, which assigns to Ahaz a reign of 16 years. Reckoning this from c. 735 we get 720 as the proximate date of Hezekiah’s accession. But this seems a wholly unjustifiable expedient.

We are thus left with 2 Kings 18:10 as our surest guide to the year of Hezekiah’s accession; and this is the view assumed throughout this work. It is true that it involves a shortening of the reign of Ahaz to about 8 years, and consequently a readjustment of the ages of Ahaz and Hezekiah at their accession (since the former dying at the age of 28 could not have left a son aged 25) but this causes no serious embarrassment, where numbers much more important are indubitably wrong. On general historical grounds neither date can claim to have much advantage over the other. It might be argued that the change of policy towards Assyria, first appearing in 711, would be more intelligible if coincident with a change of sovereign in 715. But there is little force in the argument; and it may be fairly balanced by the consideration that the embassy of Merodach-baladan is more likely to have taken place about 713 than shortly before 701.


[32] Dates established by the Assyrian monuments are indicated by italics.




  Accession of Tiglath-pileser III.


  Death of Uzziah, Jotham sole ruler. Year of Isaiah’s call.


  Hamath subdued.

c.  736.

  Accession of Ahaz.


  Syro-Ephraimitic Invasion of Judah.


  Gilead, Galilee, &c., ravaged by Assyrians; Pekah dethroned.


  Subjugation of Damascus.


  Accession of Shalmaneser IV.

c.  727?

  Accession of Hezekiah.

c.  727–722.

  Shalmaneser blockades Tyre.


  Accession of Sargon.


  Fall of Samaria.


  Sargon in Palestine: defeats Egyptians at Raphia.


  Capture of Ashdod.


  Merodach-baladan expelled from Babylon.


  Accession of Sennacherib.


  Sennacherib vanquishes Merodach-baladan.


  Invasion of Phoenicia, Philistia (battle of Ellekeh) ana Judah (deliverance of Jerusalem).

c.  697?

  Accession of Manasseh.


  Assassination of Sennacherib.


First Group. Previous to the Syro-Ephraimitic War (740–735).

ch. 2–4, Isaiah 5:1-24.

ch. Isaiah 9:8 to Isaiah 10:4, Isaiah 5:25-30.

Second Group. During and immediately after the Syro-Ephraimitic War (c. 734).

ch. Isaiah 17:1-11.

ch. 6, ch. 7 f. [?9:1–7].

[ch. 1?]

Third Group. During the Assyrian Suzerainty (734–705).

ch. Isaiah 14:28-32 (c. 727).

ch. Isaiah 28:1-4 [6] (before 722).

ch. 20. (711).

Fourth Group. During the Rebellion under Sennacherib (705–701).

ch. Isaiah 10:5-34, Isaiah 14:24-27.

[?17:12–14] 18.

ch. 28–31, Isaiah 22:15 ff.; Isaiah 32:9-20.

ch. Isaiah 22:1-14.

ch. Isaiah 37:22-35.

Of uncertain date: ch. Isaiah 11:1-9, Isaiah 32:1-8, Isaiah 32:19, Isa 32:23.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

General Editor for the Old Testament:—








professor of old testament exegesis in the presbyterian college, london.





[All Rights reserved.]


by the


The present General Editor for the Old Testament in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges desires to say that, in accordance with the policy of his predecessor the Bishop of Worcester, he does not hold himself responsible for the particular interpretations adopted or for the opinions expressed by the editors of the several Books, nor has he endeavoured to bring them into agreement with one another. It is inevitable that there should be differences of opinion in regard to many questions of criticism and interpretation, and it seems best that these differences should find free expression in different volumes. He has endeavoured to secure, as far as possible, that the general scope and character of the series should be observed, and that views which have a reasonable claim to consideration should not be ignored, but he has felt it best that the final responsibility should, in general, rest with the individual contributors.



August, 1896.


General Introduction

Chapter  I.  Contents of the Prophecy

Chapter  II.  Historical Background of the Prophecy

Chapter  III.  The Prophet’s Theological Conceptions

Chapter  IV.  Date and Authorship of the Prophecy

Chapter  V.  Unity of the Prophecy

Chronological Table

Text and Notes



*** The Text adopted in this Edition is that of Dr Scrivener’s Cambridge Paragraph Bible. A few variations from the ordinary Text, chiefly in the spelling of certain words, and in the use of italics, will be noticed. For the principles adopted by Dr Scrivener as regards the printing of the Text see his Introduction to the Paragraph Bible, published by the Cambridge University Press.



Contents of the Prophecy

The division of the Book of Isaiah into two parts at the end of ch. 39, although indicated by no superscription, is at once suggested by the intervention of the narrative section, chs. 36–39, and is fully justified by the character of the last 27 chapters. Whether these chapters form a single continuous prophecy, or whether, as some think, the work of different hands can be distinguished, they are pervaded by a unity of spirit and aim which separates them from the undisputed prophecies of Isaiah. It is this part of the book which has gained for that prophet the name of the Evangelist of the Old Testament, and whoever the author may have been, that designation aptly characterises the tendency of the chapters. Critical writers, as is well known, generally assign them to an anonymous prophet, living in the latter part of the Babylonian Exile; and the grounds on which this conclusion rests will naturally have to be stated at some length in this Introduction. They will be found to be all of the nature of what is called internal evidence, being drawn from indications furnished by the book itself of the circumstances in which it was composed. It would, however, be a mistake to allow this critical question to dominate the enquiry into the nature and teaching of the prophecy. The proper course obviously is first of all to gain as clear an idea as possible of the prophecy itself, and then to consider what light is thereby thrown on its origin. Accordingly, the substance of this and the two following chapters will be independent of the controversy as to authorship and date, and will for the most part represent views in which critics of all shades of opinion are agreed. If it should be necessary occasionally to refer to points of agreement or disagreement with the earlier part of Isaiah, this will be only for the sake of illustration, or to avoid repetition, and certainly not from any desire to prejudge the issue whether the author be Isaiah or another.

The prophecy may be conveniently divided into three nearly equal sections: chs. 40–48, 49–55, and 56–66.[36].

[36] The well-known division into three parts of nine chapters each was first proposed by Friedrich Rückert in 1831, and has found its way into many commentaries. It is based on the observation that the words, “There is no peace, saith the Lord (or, my God), to the wicked” recur at the end of ch. 48 and 57, and that the last verse of ch. 66 expresses a similar thought. But the idea that these words were introduced by the author as a refrain is not borne out by an examination of the structure of the prophecy. Between ch. 57 and 58 there is no break, but a very close connexion, and the supposed refrain completes in the most natural manner the idea of the previous verse. In ch. Isaiah 48:22, on the other hand, the words are so alien to the context that to some commentators they strongly suggest the hand of a compiler. The division as a whole, therefore, must be dismissed as “entirely superficial, and worth nothing except as an aid to the memory” (A. B. Davidson, Expositor, 2nd Series, Vol. VI. p. 88). At the same time many of the best critics agree with Rückert in regarding chs. 40–48 as the first great section of the volume. A large number of characteristic ideas (see p. 79), as well as a few peculiarities of style, are confined to these chapters, and if the last verse was inserted by an editor to mark the close of a division he appears to have been guided so far by a sound instinct. In the remainder of the prophecy it is not so easy to fix on any particular point as marking more than others a fresh departure in the argument; but on the whole the greatest break seems to occur at the end of ch. 55 (so Duhm and Cheyne, and many of the latest writers).

(A) Chs. 40–48. The Restoration of Israel through the instrumentality of Cyrus.

(1) The Prologue (ch. Isaiah 40:1-11) is a magnificent composition, setting forth in striking imagery and in language of exquisite beauty the theme of the whole discourse. The opening words, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,” which have been finely compared to “the first ripples of light in a cloudless dawn[37],” contain the burden of the prophet’s message. They mean that the night of Israel’s affliction is far spent and the day of deliverance is at hand (vv. 1, 2). The prophet hears the music of heavenly voices, telling him of spiritual agencies already in motion which will issue in the restoration of the exiles to their own land (vv. 3–5); assuring him also that all human resistance must fail before the eternal energy of the Divine word (vv. 6–8). The return from captivity is conceived (as throughout these first nine chapters) as a triumphal march of Jehovah through the desert at the head of His ransomed people; and the prelude ends with the arrival of the ideal messengers who call upon Jerusalem and the cities of Judah to behold their God (vv. 9–11).

[37] G. A. Smith, Exposition, Vol. II. p. 75.

(2) The following paragraph (vv. 12–31) introduces a theme frequently recurring in the first nine chapters, the incomparable power, the unsearchable wisdom, in a word, the infinity of Israel’s God. In order to remove the despondency which has settled on the minds of his fellow-exiles (vv. 27–31) the writer dwells at length on the evidences of Jehovah’s might and wisdom, to be observed especially in the works of creation (vv. 12–17, 26), and takes occasion to shew the inherent absurdity of idolatry (vv. 18–20), in proof that such gods as those of Babylon are powerless to thwart the purposes of the one true God.

(3) In ch. 41 the prophet touches for the first time on the historical situation which is to be explained by the truths just unfolded. (a) The sudden appearance of Cyrus as a great world-conqueror engrosses the attention of mankind. This fact is splendidly dramatised, in the conception of a great assembly of the nations, to whom Jehovah propounds the questions, Who has raised him up? Who has given him such astonishing success (Isaiah 41:1-7)? (b) Turning aside for a moment to assure Israel, Jehovah’s servant, that he has nothing to fear from these political convulsions, which on the contrary shall issue in his final deliverance and victory (vv. 8–20), the prophet (c) resumes and completes the argument left unfinished at v. 7 (vv. 21–29). That Jehovah, and not any of the heathen gods, has raised up Cyrus is proved to demonstration by the fact that He alone has foreseen and predicted the event; this argument from prophecy is another prominent feature of chs. 40–48.

(4) (a) Ch. Isaiah 42:1-4 is the first of four portraits of Jehovah’s ideal Servant which are amongst the most remarkable passages in the book. This great personage is here introduced as the object of Jehovah’s peculiar regard, and as endowed with the Divine spirit for the accomplishment of his mission, which is to teach the true religion to the world (v. 1). His manner of working is described as unobtrusive and gentle and helpful; yet he fails not nor is discouraged until his labours are crowned with complete success (vv. 2–4). (b) In the next verses (5–9) the portrait just sketched is made the ground of encouragement to Israel, Jehovah, as it were, pledging His Godhead to the fulfilment of the ideal in the people’s experience. (c) The prophet’s thoughts being thus led forward to the redemptive act through which Israel’s destiny will be realised, he breaks into a short lyric outburst of praise (vv. 10–12); after which Jehovah Himself is represented as arousing Himself from His long inactivity to bring about the deliverance of His people (vv. 13–17). (d) In contrast with the ideal of vv. 1–4, the condition of Israel, Jehovah’s actual servant, is next described (vv. 18–25). Blind and deaf, ignorant of the meaning of its own history, it has utterly mistaken its true calling, and as a consequence has been overwhelmed by the immeasurable calamity of the Exile, and been brought to the verge of destruction. (e) Yet the Divine election stands immutable; Israel is still Jehovah’s servant, and precious in His sight; it shall be ransomed at the cost of the most opulent and powerful nations of the world, and its scattered members shall be brought together from all parts of the earth (Isaiah 43:1-7).

(5) (a) But there is at least one function which Israel with all its failures and defects is still capable of performing: it is Jehovah’s witness to the fact that He has foretold the events that are happening. This thought is again dramatised in a judgement-scene, where the idols are challenged to bring forward, if they can, any similar attestation of their divinity; it would seem also that, in the very act of witness-bearing, Israel’s eyes are at length opened to the significance of this great truth and the character of its God (vv. 8–13). (b) In Isaiah 43:14 the first explicit announcement of the impending fate of Babylon occurs, introducing a description of the marvels of the new Exodus, for which the way is thus prepared (vv. 14–21). (c) Israel, indeed, has not merited this deliverance, but Jehovah for His own sake blots out its transgressions and promises to remember them no more (vv. 22–28). (d) The reconciliation is final and complete; a brilliant future lies before the nation, in which strangers shall esteem it an honour to attach themselves to the religion and the people of Jehovah (Isaiah 44:1-5).

(6) Ch. Isaiah 44:6-23 repeats the argument from prophecy for the sole deity of Jehovah (vv. 6–8); confirms this by the most elaborate and sarcastic exposure of the irrationalities of idolatry that the book contains (vv. 9–20); and appeals to the Israelites to lay these truths to heart and cleave to the God who forgives sin and is alone able to deliver (vv. 21–23).

(7) The passage ch. Isaiah 44:24 to Isaiah 45:25 is an important series of oracles dealing mainly with the mission of Cyrus and its effects in the universal diffusion of the worship of Jehovah. (a) The subject is led up to in Isaiah 44:24-28, a majestic period, where Jehovah, describing Himself as the God of creation and prophecy, at last announces His commission to Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. (b) Cyrus is next addressed in person by Jehovah, who bestows on him the title of His anointed (Messiah), and promises him an uninterrupted course of victory, at the same time declaring that it is only in the interest of Israel that he is thus honoured (Isaiah 45:1-7). (c) After a short poetic interlude (v. 8) the prophet turns to rebuke the murmurs of dissent which this novel announcement calls forth among some of his fellow-exiles (vv. 9–13). (d) And now at length he reaches what may be regarded as the highest flight of his inspired imagination. As a consequence of the signal exaltation of Israel, achieved through the victories of Cyrus, the conquered nations renounce their idols and do homage to Israel as the people of the one true God (vv. 14–17). (e) But further, this disclosure of the character and Godhead of Jehovah becomes the source of salvation to the world at large. What He has always been to Israel,—a God revealing Himself in clear unambiguous oracles,—that the heathen shall recognise Him to be; and all the ends of the earth shall look unto Him and be saved (vv. 18–25).

(8) The next two oracles deal with the fall of Babylon. In ch. 46 the principal subject is the collapse of the Babylonian state-religion. A striking contrast is drawn between the ignominious flight of the discredited idols, on the back of “weary beasts,” and the unchanging strength of Him who sustains the fortunes of His people through all ages of their history.

(9) Ch. 47 is a Taunt-song on the humiliation of the imperial city, personified as a “tender and delicate” woman, reduced from wealth and luxury and power to the lowest depth of degradation.

(10) Ch. 48 is largely a recapitulation of arguments unfolded in previous chapters, although these are interspersed with rebukes of the obstinacy of the people, more severe than any hitherto uttered. It closes with a jubilant summons to the exiles to depart from Babylon and proclaim to all the world the story of their redemption.

(B) Chs. 49–55. The work of Jehovah’s Servant and the glorification of Zion.

In the second division of the prophecy several lines of thought, which have been very prominent in the first, entirely disappear. The references to Cyrus and the prediction of the fall of Babylon, the appeal to past prophecies now fulfilled, the polemic against idolatry and the impressive inculcation of the sole deity of Jehovah, all these now familiar topics henceforth vanish from the writer’s argument. But one great conception is carried over from the first part to the second, and forms an important link of connexion between them. This is the figure of Jehovah’s ideal Servant, of which there are three further delineations in ch. Isaiah 49:1-6, Isaiah 50:4-9, and Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12. In Isaiah 49:1-6 the Servant himself addresses the nations of the world, expressing his own consciousness of the mission entrusted to him by Jehovah (see Isaiah 42:1-4) and his sense of disappointment at the apparent fruitlessness of his labour in the past, but relating also how his misgivings have been removed by a fresh disclosure of Jehovah’s ultimate purpose in raising him up, viz. to be the organ of His revelation to the whole human race. The passage is followed (as in Isaiah 42:5 ff.) by a promise of the restoration of Israel, based on the portrait just given of the Servant.—Ch. Isaiah 50:4-9 is again a soliloquy of the Servant, describing his entire self-surrender to the guidance of the Divine word, his voluntary acceptance of the persecution which he had to endure in the discharge of his mission, and his unwavering confidence in the triumph of his righteous cause through the help of Jehovah.—Ch. Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, the last and greatest of the four “servant-passages,” is an account of the sufferings and death of Jehovah’s Servant, and a prediction of his future glory. The impression made by his death on the minds of his contemporaries leads them at length to recognise his true mission and produces in them a sense of guilt and sorrow for sin which removes the barrier that had separated them from God.

The other conception which chiefly occupies the mind of the prophet in this section of his discourse is that of Zion, figured as a woman now desolate and bereaved, or drunken with the cup of Jehovah’s displeasure, but soon to be clothed in beauty and comforted by reunion to her divine Husband and by the return of her children. This image is developed in a series of passages: ch. Isaiah 49:14-26, Isaiah 51:17 to Isaiah 52:6, and Isaiah 54. There are also exhortations to individual Israelites to prepare themselves for the coming salvation, and lay aside the fears which naturally beset them: Isaiah 50:1-3, Isaiah 51:1-16; 51:55; while Isaiah 52:7-10 gives a second description of the arrival of the herald of salvation at Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 40:9 f.). It will be seen that the whole division continues to unfold the programme sketched in outline in the Prologue (Isaiah 40:1-11).

(C) Chs. 56–66. The future blessedness of the true Israel contrasted with the doom of the apostates.

The third section of the book is less homogeneous in its composition than the two others. In passing from ch. 55 to ch. 56 the reader is at once sensible of a change of manner and circumstance, which becomes still more manifest as he proceeds.

(1) Ch. Isaiah 56:1-8 is a short independent oracle on the admission of foreigners and eunuchs to the new Israel,—a matter of administrative detail, altogether unlike the lofty idealism of the previous chapters.

(2) Then follows, in Isaiah 56:9 to Isaiah 59:21, a series of discourses in which the strain of prophetic rebuke predominates over the note of comfort and encouragement. (a) Ch. Isaiah 56:9 to Isaiah 57:2 is a strongly worded denunciation of the worthless rulers through whose selfish greed the nation has been left a prey to its enemies. (b) Ch. Isaiah 57:3-13 is addressed to an idolatrous community, perpetuating the illegal worship of pre-exilic Israel, and practising in addition many strange and outlandish superstitions. (c) This is followed in Isaiah 57:14-21 by a promise of forgiveness and redemption to the true people of God. (d) Ch. 58 states the moral conditions on which the fulfilment of this promise depends, and censures in particular the solemn mockery of the customary fasts, combined as they were with avarice and high-handed oppression. (e) In ch. 59 the prophet in the name of the community confesses the great social evils which prevail within it, and utters a promise that Jehovah will speedily interpose to make an end of unrighteousness and perform the gracious word which He has spoken concerning His people.

(3) Chs. 60–62 form a group by themselves, more akin to the spirit of the earlier section of the prophecy, and having a special resemblance to ch. 54. The theme is the felicity of the ideal Zion of the future, which is depicted with a marvellous wealth of imagery and illustration. The material splendour of the restored city, the righteousness of its inhabitants, the subservience of the Gentiles, and the return of the exiles from all parts of the earth, are the features of Zion’s glory which bulk most largely in the eye of the prophet.

(4) In ch. 63 the tone again changes. Vv. 1–6 are a detached oracle,—one of the most graphic pieces of word-painting in the Old Testament,—the subject being Jehovah’s return from a great slaughter of His assembled foes in the land of Edom.

(5) Ch. Isaiah 63:7 to Isaiah 64:12 is a long prayer and confession put in the mouth of Israel, the most pathetic and plaintive passage in the whole prophecy.

(6) Chs. 65 and 66 contain an alternation of threats and promises, corresponding to the distinction between two classes of hearers which we have already recognised in ch. 57. The contrast is pushed to the utmost extreme: the true believers are assured of an abiding inheritance in the Holy Land, and an existence of more than natural blessedness in the new heavens and the new earth which Jehovah is about to create; while the apostates are threatened with final destruction, leaving their name for a formula of imprecation, and their dishonoured corpses for an everlasting spectacle to the worshippers in the new Temple.


Historical Background of the Prophecy

1. At the time when this prophecy opens Cyrus has appeared on the stage of history and has gained many important victories. In order to determine more precisely the period thus indicated it will be sufficient to bear in mind the following events in the career of this hero, as elucidated by two inscriptions first published in the year 1880[38]. In these Cyrus appears first as king of Ansan, in Elam, the country adjoining Babylonia on the east. Although connected with the royal house of Persia, the particular branch of the family to which he belonged does not appear to have reigned over Persia proper; at all events it is not till the year 546 that he is named as king of Persia. Some years previously he had ascended the throne of Ansan, and speedily gave proof of the commanding ability and energy which were soon to raise him to the front rank among the conquerors of the East. Through the defeat of Astyages in 549 he annexed Media to his dominions, and laid the foundation of the great Medo-Persian empire which controlled the destinies of Western Asia for more than 200 years. His next great success was the overthrow of Crœsus, the wealthy king of Lydia, whose capital of Sardis, with its fabulous treasures, fell into the hands of Cyrus in b.c. 540[39]. After some months spent in reducing the tribes of “Upper” Asia[40] Cyrus gathered his forces for the attack on Babylon. This crowning enterprise of his life was carried to a successful issue in 538. “In the month Tammuz [June] when Cyrus in the city of Rutu [?], on the banks of the river Nizallat, had delivered battle against the soldiers of Akkad [Northern Babylonia], when the men of Akkad had delivered (battle) the men of Akkad raised a revolt: (some) persons were slain. On the 14th day (of the month) Sippara was taken without fighting; Nabonidus [last king of Babylon] fled. (On) the 16th day Gobryas [general of Cyrus], the governor of the country of Gutium, and the soldiers of Cyrus without fighting entered Babylon.” Such is the unvarnished record of the so-called “Annalistic Tablet” of Cyrus[41]; the religious aspect of the event is expressed in remarkable language in his “Cylinder Inscription”: “Merodach … appointed also a prince who should guide aright the wish of the heart which his hand upholds, even Cyrus, the king of the city of Ansan; he has proclaimed his title; for the sovereignty of all the world does he commemorate his name … Merodach, the great lord, the restorer of his people, beheld with joy the deeds of his vicegerent, who was righteous in hand and heart. To his city of Babylon he summoned his march; he bade him also take the road to Babylon; like a friend and comrade he went at his side. The weapons of his vast army, whose number, like the waters of a river, could not be known, were marshalled in order, and it spread itself at his side. Without fighting and battle (Merodach) caused him to enter into Babylon; his city of Babylon he spared; in a hiding-place Nabonidus the king, who revered him not, did he give into his hand[42].”

[38] See Sayce, in Records of the Past, New Series, Vol. V. pp. 144–176.

[39] Herodotus, 1:73–84.

[40] Ibid. 1:177.

[41] Sayce, loc. cit., p. 162.

[42] Loc. cit., pp. 165 f.

The allusions to Cyrus in the prophecy make it perfectly certain that the time to which it refers lies between 549 and 538. Cyrus is mentioned as one already well known as a conqueror, and one whose brilliant victories have sent a thrill of excitement through the world. He is spoken of as having been “raised up from the east” (Isaiah 41:2; Isaiah 41:25; cf. Isaiah 46:11), or “from the north” (Isaiah 41:25), as one whom “victory attends at every step” (see on Isaiah 41:2), who “comes upon rulers as upon mortar, and as the potter treadeth clay” (Isaiah 41:25), who “pursues them and passes on in safety,” whose movements are so rapid that he appears not to “touch the path with his feet” (Isaiah 41:2-3). Now Cyrus could not have been recognised under such descriptive allusions prior to the conquest of Astyages in 549, when he first became a prominent actor in the political arena. But indeed the language employed is so striking and emphatic as to suggest an even later date, and to make it probable that the prophet has in view the impression created by the first intelligence of the memorable victory over Crœsus in the year 540.

On the other hand, the capture of Babylon is still in the future. Cyrus has not yet reached the climax of his success; “the doors of brass and the bolts of iron” have still to be broken before him; “treasures of darkness, the hidden riches of secret places” are still to be given to him (Isaiah 45:2-3). It is he who “shall execute Jehovah’s purpose on Babylon” (Isaiah 48:14), who “shall rebuild My city and let My exiles go free” (Isaiah 45:13; cf. Isaiah 44:28). But this final conquest, bringing in its train the sovereignty of the world (Isaiah 43:3, Isaiah 45:14, Isaiah 51:5), is imminent; “Jehovah has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations” (Isaiah 52:10) and the decisive blow is about to be struck. The standpoint of the prophecy, therefore, is certainly intermediate between 549 and 538, and most probably about 540 b.c.

2. In perfect harmony with these references to Cyrus are those to the circumstances of Israel. The nation is in exile, but on the eve of deliverance. Jerusalem has undergone a period of hard servitude on account of her sins, but the term of it has now expired; her punishment has been more than adequate (Isaiah 40:2). Israel is a people robbed and spoiled, snared in holes and hid in prison-houses (Isaiah 42:22); the captive crouches in the dungeon (Isaiah 51:14); the people are repeatedly spoken of as prisoners or bound (Isaiah 42:7, Isaiah 49:9). Such expressions are no doubt largely metaphorical, but the metaphors can denote nothing but a national captivity. The oppressing power is Babylon, the imperial city, still called “mistress of kingdoms” (Isaiah 47:5), who has laid her yoke very heavily on the aged (v. 6). She has said to Israel, “Bow down that we may go over,” and caused her to make her back as the ground and as the street to them that go over (Isaiah 51:23); and it is from Babylon that the exiles are summoned to make good their escape (Isaiah 48:20, cf. Isaiah 52:11 f.). Meanwhile Palestine is a waste and ruined land (Isaiah 49:8; Isaiah 49:19, Isaiah 51:3, Isaiah 52:9); Jerusalem is frequently likened to a widowed and bereaved mother mourning the loss of her children, though now comforted with the promise of their restoration (Isaiah 49:14 ff., Isaiah 51:17 ff., Isaiah 52:1 f., 54). No such calamity as these accumulated allusions imply had ever befallen Israel except in the half century that followed the destruction of the state by the Chaldæans (b.c. 586).

3. One other fact may be noticed, as shewing how completely the prophet’s point of view is identified with the age of the Exile. Amongst the arguments most frequently adduced for the deity of Jehovah and against idolatry is the appeal to prophecies fulfilled by the appearance of Cyrus (Isaiah 41:26, Isaiah 42:9, Isaiah 43:8-10, Isaiah 45:21, Isaiah 46:10). What prophecies are referred to is a question of some difficulty, which need not detain us here. It is obvious that whatever they were the argument has no force except as addressed to persons for whom the fulfilment was a matter of experience. To the men of an earlier age such an appeal could only appear as confusing and fallacious, being an attempt to illustrate ignotum per ignotius; hence we must conclude that the prophecy was directly intended for the generation of the Exile, and could produce its full effect only on them. It must be observed that neither the appearance of Cyrus nor the captivity of Israel is ever predicted in this prophecy; they are everywhere assumed as facts known to the readers. Predictions do occur of the most definite kind, but they are of events subsequent to those mentioned and lying in advance of the standpoint which the prophet occupies. A distinction is often made by the writer between “former things,” which have already come to pass, and “new things” or “coming things” (Isaiah 41:22, Isaiah 42:9, Isaiah 43:9; Isaiah 43:18 f., Isaiah 44:7, Isaiah 45:11, Isaiah 46:9, Isaiah 48:3-8), and in some cases it seems clear that by “former things” he means the fulfilment of earlier prophecies concerning Cyrus, while the “new things,” now first announced, are such events as the triumph of Cyrus, the salvation of Israel, and the conversion of the world to the worship of Jehovah. Even on the supposition that the chapters were written by Isaiah, 150 years before any of these occurrences, it still remains true that he does not formally predict the rise of Cyrus, but addresses himself to those who have witnessed it and only require to be told what developments will result from it in the unfolding of Jehovah’s purpose[43].

[43] The passages cited above in illustration of the circumstances presupposed by the prophecy are all, it will be observed, taken from the first two divisions (chs. 40–55). It would be possible to supplement the references in some particulars from the later chapters. Not, indeed, with regard to Cyrus, or the argument from prophecy based on his conquests, for these topics are never introduced after ch. 48; but undoubtedly with regard to the desolation of the country (Isaiah 58:12, Isaiah 61:4, Isaiah 62:4, Isaiah 64:10) and a return of exiled Jews (Isaiah 56:8, Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 60:8, Isaiah 66:20). The reason for not treating these passages as quite on the same footing with those cited in the text is that in the later chapters (56–66) there are allusions of an opposite character which seem to imply that those there addressed are the Jewish community of Palestine after the Return. Hence there is some uncertainty whether expressions which at first sight seem altogether of a piece with those of the earlier sections have not in reality a different bearing. In fact, it will be found that with scarcely an exception they are more or less ambiguous in their terms. The desolation of the land, for example, must have continued for some time after the first Return; and it is possible that only the condition of the rural districts is described in Isaiah 58:12, Isaiah 61:4 and Isaiah 62:4. The only place where Jerusalem itself is spoken of as desolate is ch. Isaiah 64:10 f., and this no doubt raises a certain presumption that the capital is included in the parallel expressions. But the passage Isaiah 63:7 to Isaiah 64:12 presents so many peculiar features that it may be unsafe to generalize from it to the bulk of chs. 56–66. In like manner the mention of a restoration of exiles is not inconsistent with the hypothesis of post-exilic origin. The reference may be to the wider dispersion over the civilised world of Israelites whose ingathering continued to be an object of aspiration long after the Jewish state had been reestablished. Even in the verses beginning, “Go through, go through the gates” (Isaiah 62:10 f.), so closely resembling Isaiah 48:20 and Isaiah 52:10 f., there is nothing to shew clearly that the gates of Babylon are meant. (See, moreover, Zechariah 2:6-7,—a post-exilic passage).—The question is perhaps one on which it would be premature to offer a positive opinion, and of course this is not the place to discuss it. But since it was impossible to ignore it in the notes, it is right that attention should be called to the difficulty here. Some further observations will be found in Chapter 5. below.


The Prophet’s Theological Conceptions

The religious teaching of chs. 40–66 has to be considered in the light of the situation sketched in the previous chapter. Although the writer’s manner of thinking is more distinctly theological than that of many other prophets, he is nevertheless before all things a prophet, that is, an inspired Interpreter of Jehovah’s action in a great crisis of history. No part of the prophetic literature answers more fully to the conception of prophecy implied in the words of Amos: “Surely the Lord Jehovah will do nothing, but he revealeth His secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). The great event in which this prophet recognises the hand of Jehovah, and of which the secret has been revealed to him, is, as has been already indicated, the advent of Cyrus. Just as the teaching of Amos and Isaiah is dominated by the appearance of the portentous Assyrian power, or that of Jeremiah by the approach of the Chaldæans, so the thoughts of this writer crystallise around the historic figure of Cyrus and the astonishing series of victories which have distinguished his career. It is true he is the first prophet who discerns in the signs of the times a Divine purpose which is from the first a purpose of grace towards Israel. His predecessors had all looked on the world-power as the instrument of Jehovah’s chastisement of His people, and had anticipated a happy issue only as a second step, after the earthly instrument had been broken and thrown away. But the writer of these chapters has the word “comfort” constantly on his lips; the whole burden of his message is one of consolation and good tidings; and he views Cyrus as the chosen agent of Jehovah, not merely in crushing obstacles to the execution of His purpose, but as lending active support in the establishment of His kingdom. Nevertheless the author lives his prophetic life in a time of perplexity and disquietude, when men’s hearts failed them for fear; and it is in the disentanglement and solution of a situation which was to all others a hopeless mystery that he realises his vocation as a prophet.

Like other prophets, too, he sees in the events of the time the immediate precursors of Jehovah’s everlasting kingdom of righteousness. The final consummation of God’s purposes with humanity lies in germ in the appearance of Cyrus; in the writer’s own graphic phrase, it already “sprouts” before men’s eyes (Isaiah 42:9, Isaiah 43:19). And thus he is led to a prophetic construction of the outward course of events in which many things are left obscure, but of which the salient features are as follows: This Cyrus whom Jehovah has raised up to do His pleasure on Babylon is the destined instrument of Israel’s emancipation. He shall let the captives go free; they shall return to Jerusalem in triumphal procession, with Jehovah Himself as their Shepherd,—the wilderness breaking forth before them into springs of water and a luxuriant forest vegetation. The story of this redemption resounds through the world, and the nations, already impressed by the victory of Cyrus, and now convinced that he has been raised up by Jehovah for the sake of Israel, renounce their idolatries and find salvation in the knowledge of the one true God.

The prophet is aware, however, that his hearers are not in a mood to be easily cheered. References to their state of mind are numerous, and nowhere do we find any indication of an enthusiastic response to the prophet’s joyful proclamation. When Jehovah came there was no man, when He called there was none to answer (ch. Isaiah 50:2). Among the exiles were some who are described as “stouthearted, far from righteousness” (Isaiah 46:12), who rejected the prophet’s message and took exception in particular to his designation of Cyrus as the chosen instrument of Israel’s release (Isaiah 45:9-13). But the prevalent mood was one of utter weariness and despondency. Israel said, “My way is hid from Jehovah, and my right passes from my God” (Isaiah 40:27; cf. Isaiah 49:14). Dismayed by the might of Babylon, and fearing continually because of the oppressor (Isaiah 51:13), confronted on every hand by the monuments of a vast system of idolatry, the exiles had given way to gloomy thoughts and doubts of the power or willingness of Jehovah to redeem. To counteract this despairing mood something more was needed than a bare announcement of deliverance. The first requisite was to revive their consciousness of God, to impress them with a sense of His infinite power and resources, and the immutability of His word; and also to impart to them a new and inspiring view of their own mission and destiny as a nation. And to this task the writer addresses himself with all the impassioned and persuasive eloquence of which he is an unrivalled master.

Jehovah, the God of Israel.—The prophet’s doctrine of God is, accordingly, the fundamental element of his teaching. The book, it has been well said, “is a structure based upon and built out of the Monotheistic conception, the idea that Jehovah, God of Israel, is the true and only God[44].” The author does not differ from earlier prophets in being a monotheist, but he differs remarkably in this that he inculcates the principle almost as an abstract truth of religion, and strives to bring it home to the reason and imagination of his readers. It is perhaps not strictly accurate to say that he sets himself to prove any positive truth about Jehovah, although some passages read to us like demonstrations. The existence of Jehovah is assumed, as are also the facts that He is the Creator of the universe and the Disposer of the events of history; and what is built on these assumptions is an attempt to elevate and purify the conceptions of the Israelites and convey to them some worthy idea of what Deity involves. But if anything is made a matter of demonstration, it is the negative conclusion that the idols are not gods, that their helplessness in the face of the facts of history shews them to lack the attributes of Deity, that in short, as there is room for only one God, the God of Israel has alone made good His right to be so regarded.

[44] A. B. Davidson, Expositor, 2nd Series, Vol. VI. p. 81.

The prophet’s conceptions of what God is in Himself are most fully set forth in the meditation which immediately follows the Prologue (ch. Isaiah 40:12-26). The chief thought is contained in the repeated question, “To whom will ye liken God?” (vv. 18, 25). It is the incomparableness of Jehovah which the writer seeks to expound and illustrate. This is enforced first of all by an appeal to the works of creation. What sort of Being must He be who “measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?” (v. 12). “Lift up your eyes on high and see! Who hath created these [the starry host]? bringing out their host by number, calling them all by name; because of Him who is great in might and strong in power not one is missing” (v. 26). In comparison with such a Being, how insignificant and inappreciable is every form of finite existence! He “sitteth over the circle of the earth and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers” (v. 22); “the nations are as a drop from the bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance” (v. 15). His purposes in history cannot be thwarted by any political combinations, however powerful; for He “bringeth princes to nothing, and maketh the judges of the earth as vanity; hardly have they been planted; hardly have they been sown; … when He bloweth upon them and they wither, and the whirlwind taketh them away as stubble” (vv. 23f.). And if men, singly and collectively, are thus helpless before Him, what shall be thought of those so-called gods which are the work of men’s hands? The idol is sufficiently discredited by a description of the process of its manufacture (vv. 18–20); it is not merely a “nonentity” (as Isaiah called it), it is a reductio ad absurdum of the very conception of deity.

Thoughts similar to these run through the prophecy, especially the first nine chapters. The question, “To whom will ye liken me?” recurs in Isaiah 46:5; Jehovah’s creative activity is touched upon in Isaiah 42:5, Isaiah 45:7; Isaiah 45:12; Isaiah 45:18, Isaiah 48:7, Isaiah 54:16, Isaiah 65:17 f. &c. The argument against idolatry is developed in a series of passages (Isaiah 41:7, Isaiah 44:9-20, Isaiah 46:6 f., comp. Isaiah 41:23 ff., Isaiah 42:17, Isaiah 45:16; Isaiah 45:20, Isaiah 46:1 f., Isaiah 48:5) which at once arrest attention by their scathing irony and scorn. Idolatry is as it were laughed out of court, treated as an effete delusion which the world ought long to have outgrown. The consciousness of unique Godhead is attributed to Jehovah in such utterances as, “Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me” (Isaiah 43:10), or “I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 46:9; cf. Isaiah 44:8, Isaiah 45:6; Isaiah 45:14; Isaiah 45:18; Isaiah 45:21 f.). The same truth is expressed when He is called Qâdôsh (Holy) absolutely, almost as a proper name (Isaiah 40:25); meaning that He alone possesses the attributes that constitute divinity[45]. He is the “First and the Last” (Isaiah 41:4, Isaiah 44:6, Isaiah 48:12), unchanging through all ages, an “Everlasting God,” inexhaustible in power and wisdom (Isaiah 40:28).

[45] See Vol. I. pp. 45 f.

But though Jehovah is thus transcendently exalted, His relation to the world and men upon it is not one of negation or indifference. He did not create the earth for a waste, but to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18); He is present in all ages of history, calling the generations from the beginning (Isaiah 41:4), and moulding their destinies in accordance with His world-wide purpose of salvation. In pursuance of His far-reaching and unsearchable designs He has raised up Israel, calling it from the ends of the earth (Isaiah 41:9) to be the organ of His revelation, and now He has raised up the Persian king Cyrus to be the instrument of His final victory over heathenism. In connexion with this unceasing activity of Jehovah in the affairs of men, great stress is laid upon His knowledge of the future and His habit of predicting it. The heathen gods are repeatedly challenged to prove their claim to deity by instances of unambiguous predictions subsequently verified (Isaiah 41:22 f., Isaiah 43:9, Isaiah 44:7); while Israel, on the other hand, is appealed to as a witness that Jehovah has fore seen and foretold the future (Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 44:8). This peculiar test of divinity might appear to be a concession to the mode of thought of the heathen, whose religion consisted in great part in the search for divine prognostications of coming events. But it has also a positive value for the prophet’s own mind, as evidence that events are prearranged by Jehovah in accordance with a fixed and intelligible plan whose goal is the redemption of Israel and the manifestation of the Divine glory to all mankind.

Of the moral (as distinguished from the metaphysical) attributes of God, the most important is His righteousness. The prophet’s use of this word is somewhat difficult, and it appears to denote more than one aspect of the Divine character[46]. It is plain enough that what is called retributive righteousness, or dealing with men according to their strict deserts, is far too narrow an idea to explain some of its most striking applications. Righteousness is the quality displayed in the raising up of Cyrus (Isaiah 45:13), in the sustaining of Israel, which is ascribed to Jehovah’s “right hand of righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10), and in the calling of the ideal Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42:6). But further it is exhibited in Jehovah’s manner of revealing Himself; He is One who “speaks righteousness” (Isaiah 45:19); One who in contrast with the false gods is approved as righteous by the verification of His prophecies (Isaiah 41:26); a word goes forth from His mouth in righteousness and shall not return (Isaiah 45:23). The general idea suggested by these various usages is perhaps trustworthiness in word and deed, and particularly in the perfect correspondence between word and deed. This implies that Jehovah’s actions are all regulated by a consistent and firmly maintained principle, so that when He speaks He but reveals the inner principle which is the true motive of His action; and when He is said to uphold Israel or to raise up Cyrus “in righteousness” the meaning is that He does so in pursuance of a steadfast purpose which He may be relied on to carry through. And since His purpose is ultimately a purpose of salvation, we can understand how so frequently in the prophecy the idea of righteousness tends to become merged in that of salvation. It would, of course, be a paradox to speak of salvation as a divine attribute, although the paradox would very nearly represent an important element in the prophet’s idea of God. The power and readiness to save men is a standing characteristic of Jehovah, which can be predicated of no other god; He is a “righteous and saving God” (Isaiah 45:21); besides Him there is no Saviour (Isaiah 43:11; cf. Isaiah 45:15; Isaiah 45:21; Isaiah 49:26). But, speaking strictly, salvation is the outward act which gives effect to Jehovah’s purpose; and so we find several passages where righteousness itself ceases to be an attribute and becomes a name for the external manifestation in which the attribute embodies itself (Isaiah 46:13, Isaiah 51:6; Isaiah 51:8, Isaiah 56:1 b). The same truth is expressed in the frequent application to Jehovah of the verb “redeem” or the epithet “Redeemer” (Isaiah 41:14, Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 44:22 f., 24, &c.; see p. 20). “Salvation,” however, is a term of wider import than “redemption.” The latter expresses what Jehovah does for His own people of Israel; but the former, although used in the first instance of the deliverance of Israel from Babylon, is a spiritual blessing in which all mankind have an interest. “Israel is saved in Jehovah with an everlasting salvation” (Isaiah 45:17); and the heathen, recognising this, are invited to avail themselves of the same privilege: “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else” (v. 22)[47].

[46] See Appendix, Note II.

[47] The idea of salvation has an instructive history. In Arabic the root wasi‘a means to be wide, roomy, spacious, &c.; and hence the Hebr. verb “to save” (which is the causative of this) means primarily “to make room for one,” “to give one freedom or space to move in.” Even in this form the word contains the germ of a valuable religious idea, salvation being essentially freedom for the normal expansion of man’s true life. In the O.T., however, it is always used with express reference to some pressure or impediment, the removal of which constitutes the essence of the act called salvation or the state of salvation which results from it (יֶשַׁע, יְשׁוּעָה, תְּשׁוּעָה). In the earlier literature these names have mostly a secular and political application, denoting “succour” in a military sense, or (more frequently) “victory.” The religious sense grew naturally out of this. At all times it was recognised that Jehovah is the source of deliverance or victory; but at least from the time of the Exile the centre of gravity of the idea was shifted from the temporal act of deliverance to the partly spiritual blessings which were secured by it. Salvation becomes (as in this prophecy) a comprehensive term for that decisive vindication of Israel’s cause which was the foundation of all national well-being. At the same time “these words seldom, if ever, express a spiritual state exclusively; their common theological sense in Hebrew is that of a material deliverance attended by spiritual blessings” (see Driver, Notes on Samuel, p. 90).

These are perhaps the most characteristic features in the idea of God as presented in these chapters. It is after all an imperfect statement of the Prophet’s conception of God, which is indeed so rich and full as almost to baffle analysis. “Jehovah is to him a living moral Person, possessing all the powers of personality in a degree transcending conception, and shewing all the activities of moral being in perfection[48].” “It would be easy to find in the prophet proof-texts for everything which theology asserts regarding God, with the exception perhaps of the assertion that He is a spirit, by which is meant that He is a particular kind of substance. Neither the prophet nor the Old Testament knows anything of a Divine essence. It does not say that God is spirit, but that He has a spirit; and by spirit is not meant a substance, but an efficiency. The spirit of God is God operating in any way according to the ineffable powers which He possesses as a moral person[49].”

[48] A. B. Davidson, Expositor, 2nd Series, Vol. VIII. p. 255.

[49] Ibid. p. 253.

It may be remarked in contrast to what was said of Isaiah in Vol. i. p. 1, that the divine tenderness receives full and emphatic expression, as was to be expected from the character of this prophecy. “In an outburst of wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee” (Isaiah 54:8). Jehovah is compared to a shepherd, gathering the lambs in His arms and carrying them in His bosom, and gently leading those that give suck (Isaiah 40:11); and the pathos of this image is even exceeded by one of the latest in the book: “as a man whom his mother comfort, so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13). These expressions shew that with all the prophet’s insistence on the transcendent perfection of Jehovah, there is no diminution of the vivid sense of His personal being. These chapters contain anthropomorphisms as bold and striking as any to be found in the Old Testament. Jehovah is described as a man of war eager for the fray, as crying like a travailing woman, as gasping and panting with suppressed fury (Isaiah 42:13 f.). He arms Himself for conflict with His enemies, putting on righteousness as a breastplate, clothing Himself with zeal as a cloke, &c. (Isaiah 59:16-18). In Isaiah 63:1-6 He is represented coming up from a great slaughter of His foes, striding in the greatness of His might, and speaking of the day of vengeance that was in His heart. Such delineations are no doubt imaginative, but the images express a truth, and belong as much to the prophet’s conception of God as the more abstract and lofty ideas which stand side by side with them in the book.

Israel, the Servant of Jehovah. Remarkable as is the prophet’s contribution to the Biblical doctrine of God, it is surpassed in importance and originality by his teaching with regard to the mission of Israel. The very grandeur and universality of his conception of Jehovah appears to necessitate a profounder interpretation of Israel’s place in history than any previous prophet had explicitly taught. It might readily appear that a Being so exalted and glorious as Jehovah is here represented to be could not enter into special relations with any particular people of the earth, and that Israel could be no more to Him than the children of the Ethiopians (Amos 9:7). This inference, which for a special purpose the prophet Amos seemed almost ready to draw, would obviously be fatal to the religion of revelation. It is little to say that this prophet does not accept the conclusion suggested; he repudiates it in the most direct and emphatic manner, declaring that since Israel was precious in His sight, Jehovah gives Egypt as its ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in its stead (Isaiah 43:3). And whether he was conscious of the problem latent in his conceptions or not, it is certain he has provided a solution of it, which lies in the thought that Israel is elect for the sake of mankind. Jehovah, as we have already seen, cherishes a purpose of grace towards the whole human race (Isaiah 45:18 ff.), and the meaning of His choice of Israel is that He uses it as His instrument in the execution of that world-wide purpose of salvation.

This view of Israel’s position amongst the nations is expressed in the title “Servant of Jehovah,” which is applied to the people in passages too numerous to quote (Isaiah 41:8, Isaiah 42:19 ff., Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 43:12, Isaiah 44:1 f., 21, Isaiah 45:4, Isaiah 48:20). In most of these places there is no room for doubt as to the subject which the writer has in his mind. It is the historic nation of Israel, represented in the present chiefly by the community of the Exiles, but conceived throughout as a moral individual whose life and consciousness are those of the nation. The personification is at times extremely bold; as when Israel is said to have been formed “from the womb” (Isaiah 44:1 f.), or when Jehovah speaks of it as having been “borne from the womb,” and promises to carry it “even unto old age and hoar hairs” (Isaiah 46:3-4); at other times the collective nature of the conception is suffered to appear (Isaiah 43:12, &c.). Still no one who reads the passages can suppose for a moment that anything else than the actual people of Israel is intended. Nor is the writer of these chapters the first who employs the name “servant” in this sense. It is used by Ezekiel in ch. Isaiah 28:25, Isaiah 37:25, where Jehovah speaks of “the land that I have given to Jacob my servant[50],” and it is found also in Jeremiah 30:10, in a sentence which might have been written by our prophet: “Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith Jehovah, neither be dismayed, O Israel,” &c. (So also Jeremiah 46:27.) In itself the designation might mean much or little. As expressing the relation between the people and its national deity, it might mean simply “worshipper” (see Joshua 24:29; Nehemiah 1:10; Job 1:8; Daniel 6:20 and often); and this is certainly included; Israel is the Servant of Jehovah as His worshipper, His client, through whom His name is perpetuated among men. But as certainly the prophet’s idea goes far beyond this. Comparing the different connexions in which the name occurs, we find the thoughts associated with it to be these two: first, that Israel has been adopted by Jehovah of His free grace and brought into a peculiar relation to Himself. The words used are many: “called,” “chosen,” “created,” “formed,” “made”; but all these refer to one fact, the formation of the people at the time of the Exodus from Egypt or (it may be) the call of Abraham from Chaldæa. The second thought is that of a mission entrusted to the nation of Israel by Jehovah. This is naturally suggested by the word “servant”; and it is made still clearer by ch. Isaiah 42:19 : “Who is blind but my servant? or deaf as my messenger that I send?” and other passages. In so far as the historic Israel is concerned, this mission is fulfilled more by experiences in which it is passive than by its voluntary activity. It has proved itself “blind” and “deaf”; i.e. spiritually unfit for its high vocation (Isaiah 42:19-20, Isaiah 43:8). Yet as the prophetic nation it has already served an important purpose; it is Jehovah’s witness to the truth of His prophecy, and through this to the reality of His divinity (Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 43:12, Isaiah 44:8). And this function shall be still more fully realised when the great deliverance through Cyrus has taken place, and the nations of the world shall behold this crowning demonstration of Jehovah’s Godhead, and turn to Israel with the confession, “Surely God is in thee; and there is none else, there is no God” (Isaiah 45:14 ff.). In that day Israel shall not be wholly a passive instrument of Jehovah’s great purpose; for “I will pour my spirit upon thy seed and my blessing upon thine offspring.… One (i.e. from among the heathen) shall say, I am Jehovah’s, and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall inscribe on his hand ‘To Jehovah,’ and be titled by the name of Israel” (Isaiah 44:3-5).

[50] It is possible, however, in these passages, to understand the expression of Jacob as the ancestor of the nation.

But there is another class of passages where this application of the title “Servant of Jehovah” to the actual Israel does not suffice (Isaiah 42:1-4, Isaiah 49:1-6, Isaiah 50:4-9, Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12). We must not overlook the close resemblance between these passages and those spoken of in the last paragraph. The ideas included in the term “servant” are precisely the same in the two cases. New features are added to the description which are inapplicable to the nation as a whole, but still the conception of the office of the ideal Servant does not go beyond the two elements of an election by Jehovah, and a commission to be discharged in His service. What makes it impossible in the last group of passages to suppose that the Servant means Israel simply, is not so much the intense personification of the ideal (although that is very remarkable, and weighs with many minds); it is rather the character attributed to the Servant and the fact that he is distinguished from Israel by having a work to do on behalf of the nation. He is to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved of Israel (Isaiah 49:8), to open blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon (Isaiah 42:7); to “raise up the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages; to say to them that are bound, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves” (Isaiah 49:8-9). That is, he is to be the agent in Jehovah’s hand of effecting the release of Israel from captivity and of restoring it to its own land. Nay more, he endures persecution and opposition from his own countrymen (Isaiah 50:6-9), and dies the death of a martyr at their hands (Isaiah 53:1-9). His sufferings and death constitute an atonement for the sins of his people, so that with his stripes they are healed (Isaiah 53:4-6; Isaiah 53:8). He is one also who is in conscious and perfect sympathy with Jehovah’s purpose in raising him up; he is neither blind nor deaf, but alert and sensitive and responsive to the divine voice (Isaiah 50:4-5). So conscious is he of his mission and so eager to succeed in it, that he speaks of himself as depressed and discouraged by its apparent failure so long as it was limited to the conversion and instruction of his own people (Isaiah 49:4), and correspondingly cheered when it is revealed to him that his work has a larger scope, even the gathering of the whole race into the fold of the true religion (Isaiah 49:5-6). To this wider outlook there is attached the assurance of a signal success (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:4), which shall excite the astonishment of the nations and potentates of the world (Isaiah 49:7, Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53:10-12).

The question, who is meant by the Servant of Jehovah in these delineations is perhaps the most difficult problem in the exposition of these chapters. Of the many views that have been propounded (see Appendix, Note I.) there are but two which call for consideration here.

1. A large number of expositors hold that the term “Servant of Jehovah” always, in some sense, denotes Israel. They regard it as inconceivable that the prophet should apply the same title to two distinct subjects without so much as a hint that there is a double application in his mind. It is all the more difficult to suppose that this should be the case, because the predicates associated with the title are essentially identical in all its uses. The Servant is throughout one called and upheld by Jehovah, and destined to be the organ through whom He carries out His purpose of establishing His universal kingdom. It is true that the subject of the personification cannot in every case be the actual Israel, or the nation en masse, for it has been shewn that the characteristics of the Servant are in some instances the opposite of those displayed by the bulk of the people. But if the Servant cannot in such passages be the literal historic nation, he may still be Israel according to its true vocation and destiny, the ideal Israel which has existed in the mind of God from the beginning, and which would yet emerge on the stage of history in the nation purified and redeemed from the sorrows of the Exile. It may be urged against this theory that the Servant is represented as one who has an experience and a history behind him (Isaiah 49:4 ff., Isaiah 50:6, Isaiah 53:1-9); and to many it may appear a contradiction that an ideal should have a history of the kind depicted. A still more serious difficulty is thought to lie in the fact that the Servant labours and suffers for the good of Israel, and in particular is the agent of its deliverance from captivity. These objections are forcible, but they are partly met by the consideration that the ideal has been approximately realised in a section of the people who had worked for the conversion of their nation, and on whose minds there had dawned the more glorious hope of being a light to the Gentiles. The conception is not free from difficulty, but there is nothing unnatural in the supposition that the experience of this godly kernel of Israel should be ascribed to the ideal which is partly manifest in them or that this ideal when personified should be called by the name of Israel. And the fact that he is the agent of the people’s redemption may be explained in a similar way: the ideal stands for the destiny of the nation, and since it is for the sake of the ideal embodied in the Servant that Jehovah in His providence brings to pass the redemption of Israel, the whole process of deliverance might, in the personification, be ascribed to the Servant.

2. Other writers, however, are not satisfied with this explanation, and think that the Servant of Jehovah must in some cases be an individual yet to arise, who shall embody in himself all the characteristics that belong to the divine idea of Israel. It is a question of inferior importance whether the figure be a modification of the conception of the Messianic king, or an independent creation, which was only shewn by the fulfilment to be identical with the Messiah of other prophets. Now such a conception is in itself perfectly intelligible and natural. We might suppose, for example, that the author took up the expression, “Servant of Jehovah,” and under the guidance of the Spirit of God threw out a portrait of what the ideal Servant of the Lord must be, and that there was imparted to him the conviction that an individual answering to this portrait would appear in the immediate future. But in the connexion in which the idea occurs in this prophecy, the explanation is encumbered by certain difficulties. Besides the exegetical difficulty arising from the application of the same title to subjects entirely different, there is this further objection that the course of events as conceived by the prophet does not appear to afford space for the evolution which it is necessary to suppose. The Servant on the hypothesis has yet to appear (for it is impossible to think that the writer speaks of a contemporary known to him), has to be misjudged, rejected, maltreated and put to death by his countrymen; then the thoughts of his generation concerning him have to undergo a revolution (ch. Isaiah 53:9); and only after all this has taken place can the people look for his resurrection and the deliverance from exile which he is to effect. The process described obviously demands time, and we cannot help asking whether it is credible that this should be the meaning of the prophet who penned the hasty summons to escape from Babylon (Isaiah 48:20, Isaiah 52:11-12) and gives many another indication that he regards the deliverance as imminent. If, on the other hand, the Servant be a personification of the ideal of Israel, the greater part of the process lies already behind the prophet. The popular misapprehension of the Servant’s mission, his persecution, his martyrdom, have been accomplished in the persons of those Israelites in whom the ideal of Israel was partly exhibited; the revulsion of feeling, so profoundly conceived and described in ch. 53, is perhaps a process which the prophet sees taking place around him; and all that remains for the future is the Servant’s rising from the dead, which is, on this theory, but a figure for the national restoration.

Each hypothesis, therefore, has its own peculiar attractions and difficulties; and it is natural that commentators should differ as to which furnishes on the whole the most satisfactory solution. Perhaps the point that requires most to be insisted on as a matter of fair historical interpretation is that in the prophet’s mind the crisis of the Servant’s career is somehow bound up with the fortunes of Israel in the age of the Exile. “Not to raise the question of the Servant here, whether he be Israel or another, the way in which the prophet himself takes up his own words towards the end of his prophecy, and, speaking of Israel restored, says, ‘The Gentiles shall come to thy light’ (Isaiah 60:3), shews that at any rate the Servant shall come into communion with the Gentiles through Israel redeemed, and in this way become their ‘light.’ Any missionary enterprises of individuals, however exalted, could not occur to the prophet. Like all prophets of the Old Testament he operates with nations and peoples. And if the nations are to receive ‘light’ through Israel, it will be through Israel, again an imposing people before the world’s eyes, just as the Law goes forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2)[51].”

[51] A. B. Davidson, Expositor, 2nd Series, VII. p. 91.

The value of the conception as a prophetic delineation of the character and work of our Lord is in no way affected by the view we may be led to adopt regarding its inception in the mind of the prophet. All Christian interpreters agree that the ideal has been fulfilled but once in history, in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom all the features of the divine ideal impressed on Israel have received adequate and final expression. Perhaps we may go further and say that to us it is clear that the ideal could only be realised in a personal life at once human and divine; only, we have no right to say that this must have been equally evident to the prophet in his day. The significance of his teaching does not lie in any direct statement that in some future age an individual should arise bearing this image,—a statement which he never makes—; it consists in the marvellous degree in which he has been enabled to foreshadow the essential truths concerning the life and mission of the Redeemer. This is a fact which nothing can obscure, and which is attested for us, if it needed attestation, by the application of these passages to Christ in the New Testament. But just as it is certain that the prophecy was not fulfilled in the precise way that the writer expected (viz., as an element of Israel’s restoration from Babylon), so it is a legitimate question for historical exegesis what kind of basis the ideal had in his thoughts,—“a real or an ideal man, a man of flesh and blood, who, as he foresaw, would appear in the world, or an ideal man, in one sense the creation of his own mind, though in another sense existing from the moment of Israel’s call and creation, all down its history, and to exist for ever[52].”

[52] A. B. Davidson, Expositor, VIII. p. 450.

Israel and the Gentiles.—The state of things which follows the redemption of Israel is an age of universal salvation in which all nations share in the blessings that flow from a knowledge of the true God. That Israel is to enjoy a religious primacy among the peoples of the world might be assumed from the general position of the Old Testament on this subject, and is expressly asserted in ch. Isaiah 61:5-6, where the Jews are spoken of as the future priesthood of humanity. The manner in which the world is to be converted to the religion of Israel and of Jehovah is variously represented. In the first place, it is the direct result of the victories of Cyrus, the “Anointed” of Jehovah. For this purpose Jehovah has raised him up, “that men may know from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none beside Me” (Isaiah 45:6). The effect on the heathen nations is described in vv. 14–17 of the same chapter; and it is noteworthy that it is not merely a negative effect, leading them to repudiate their false gods, but involves some positive revelation of the character of the God of Israel. “Only in thee (Israel) is God, and there is none else; there is no God. Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O Saviour-God of Israel” (vv. 14, 15). Of the same nature are passages where the forthputting of Jehovah’s might is spoken of as the means of convincing men of His Godhead: “mine arms shall judge the peoples; the isles shall wait for me, and on mine arm shall they trust” (Isaiah 51:5; cf. Isaiah 52:10, Isaiah 66:19, &c.). In the second place, the conversion of the heathen is the work of Jehovah’s ideal Servant, and is accomplished partly by his doctrine (“the isles wait for his teaching,” Isaiah 42:4) and the prophetic word which is placed in his mouth (Isaiah 49:2), partly by the spectacle of his startling elevation from extreme abasement to the highest influence and glory (Isaiah 52:13-15). He is thus set for a “light to the Gentiles,” to be God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6); he “shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgement (i.e. true religion) in the earth” (Isaiah 42:4). The attitude towards the Gentiles expressed in these “servant-passages” is singularly sympathetic and even appreciative. They are likened to “crushed reeds” and “smoking wicks” (Isaiah 42:3); that is, they are conceived as possessing some natural virtue, which is ready to expire for lack of a true faith, but which the Servant’s tender and helpful ministry will strengthen and fan into a glowing flame. Once more, in the later chapters of the prophecy, the salvation of the heathen is ascribed to the impression made by the unimagined splendour of the new Jerusalem, which is the one centre of light in a benighted world. “For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but upon thee shall Jehovah arise and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Isaiah 60:2-3). The conception of the future kingdom of God becomes perhaps on the whole less ideal and more material towards the end of the book than in the early chapters. The blessedness of Israel contains moral and spiritual elements (Isaiah 60:21, Isaiah 61:3; Isaiah 61:11, Isaiah 62:2, Isaiah 65:24, Isaiah 66:10-13, &c.); but great stress is laid on its external magnificence and prosperity; on the architectural beauties of Jerusalem (Isaiah 54:11 f., Isaiah 60:13; Isaiah 60:17), on its wealth (Isaiah 60:5-7; Isaiah 60:9; Isaiah 60:13; Isaiah 60:16, Isaiah 61:6, Isaiah 66:12) and security in the enjoyment of temporal blessings (Isaiah 57:13, Isaiah 62:8 f., Isaiah 65:9 f., 21 ff.), and its abundant population (Isaiah 49:17 ff., Isaiah 54:1 ff., Isaiah 66:7 ff.). So the relation of the Gentiles to the true God is represented as one of subservience to Israel, the people of God: they shall “bow down to thee with their faces to the earth, and lick the dust of thy feet” (Isaiah 49:23; cf. Isaiah 60:14), placing their wealth at the disposal of Israel (Isaiah 60:6 f., 11, 16, Isaiah 61:6, Isaiah 66:12) and performing menial offices in its service (Isaiah 60:10, Isaiah 61:5). But the subjection is on the whole represented as a voluntary one on the part of the nations, as is shewn by their goodwill in escorting the exiles back (Isaiah 49:22, Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 60:9, Isaiah 66:20), and the honourable function assumed by them as guardians of the new community (Isaiah 49:23, Isaiah 66:12). They are animated by a sincere desire to share in the religious privileges which are dispensed through Israel, and willingly acknowledge the superior position belonging to it, as the seed which the Lord hath blessed (Isaiah 61:6; Isaiah 61:9). The thought expressed by these images is still the universal diffusion of the true religion; the Temple becomes a “house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7), and “all flesh” comes to worship before Jehovah at Jerusalem (Isaiah 66:23).


Date and Authorship of the Prophecy

An attempt must now be made to present a summary of the evidence for and against the Isaianic authorship of chs. 40–66.[53] In doing so it is right to begin with the arguments that have led a majority of critics to regard the prophecy as a work composed towards the close of the Exile[54]. Tradition has its prescriptive rights, and its assertions are not to be questioned except on adequate grounds. But where, as in the present case, it is challenged by a large body of critical opinion, it is necessary to form some estimate of the value of this opinion before proceeding to test the traditional view which opposes it. Following the example of Driver we may arrange the internal evidence under three heads: (1) that derived from the historical presuppositions of the prophecy; (2) that furnished by the prophet’s conceptions; and (3) that of his style and language.

[53] The present chapter is largely indebted to Driver’s admirable (and of course much fuller) statement of the evidence in his Isaiah 2, pp. 185–212.

[54] Döderlein, in 1775, was the first modern scholar who took up this position. Before then the traditional view does not seem to have been questioned except by the Jewish commentator Aben Ezra († 1167 a.d.), who, in very obscure language, appears to hint that the title of the book does not guarantee the authorship of every part of it, any more than in the case of the books of Samuel, of which Samuel himself could only have written the first 24 chapters (his death being recorded in 1 Samuel 25:1). Döderlein has been followed, among others, by Gesenius, Ewald, Hitzig, Knobel, Umbreit, de Wette, Bleek, Bunsen, Cheyne, Kuenen, Reuss, Duhm, Oehler, A. B. Davidson, Orelli, König, Driver, G. A. Smith, Kirkpatrick, Delitzsch (in the 4th Ed. of his Comm. 1890), &c. Amongst the defenders of the Isaianic authorship the best-known names are those of Hengstenberg, Hävernick, Drechsler, Delitzsch (down to about 1880), Stier, Rutgers, Kay, Nägelsbach, Douglas, &c.

1. The most important element in the critical argument is the inference to be naturally drawn from the historical situation presupposed by the prophecy, as described in Chapter 11. It is impossible here to add anything to what was there said; and it is the less necessary to do this, since the case is freely admitted by the ablest opponents of the critical position to be as stated[55]. It may therefore be taken as proved that the prophet’s apparent position is in the Captivity, and it only remains to be considered whether it is credible that his actual position should be different from this.

[55] Delitzsch, writing in 1857 as a defender of the Isaianic authorship, says: “The author of Isaiah 40-66 finds himself amongst the exiles, and preaches to them with a pastor’s most particular concern for their varied moral circumstances.… If the author had another situation actually present before him, he is as it were completely detached from it. In vain one looks in the course of these 27 chapters for an indication that the prophet distinguishes his ideal from his actual present, that he turns back from Babylon, where he is in spirit, to the yet undestroyed Jerusalem, where he receives his message, that his consolation and admonition ever turn aside from the people of the Exile to the people of the Holy Land, from the future generation to his own contemporaries. This nowhere happens; he lives and moves entirely in the Exile, there and nowhere else is the home of his thoughts” (Drechsler’s Isaiah, III. p. 389). Hengstenberg’s admissions are less sweeping, but perhaps on that account all the more significant. “The prophet, in the whole of the second part, assumes his standpoint as a rule … in the time when Jerusalem was conquered by the Chaldaeans, &c.… In this period he thinks, feels and acts; it has become to him the present, from which he looks out into the future, yet in such a manner that he does not everywhere maintain this ideal standpoint” (Christologie, II. 195). Similar testimonies could be quoted from other writers.

No question is here raised of the possibility of such a projection of the prophetic standpoint into the remote future as is implied in the assumption that Isaiah wrote these chapters. The only question is whether the phenomenon be probable, judged by the analogy of prophecy itself. Now it is perfectly true that the prophets do sometimes take up an ideal standpoint from which events really future are spoken of as if they were past. But no passage can be found which presents any real parallel to the case before us if Isaiah be the writer of this prophecy. In all other instances the adoption of a future standpoint is but a sudden and transient flight of the prophet’s imagination, from which he speedily reverts to his actual present; no example can be produced of a prophet immersing himself, as it were, in the future, and gathering round him all the elements of a definite and complex historical situation, and forecasting from it a future still more distant. Moreover, none of the alleged parallels violate the invariable rule that the prophets address themselves in the first instance, and chiefly, to the men of their own time. Their descriptions of the future are meant for the instruction and guidance of their own contemporaries, whether the tenses used be past or future. But if Isaiah wrote these chapters he absolutely ignores his contemporaries, alluding to circumstances of which they were not cognisant, and using arguments (p. 20 above) which had no force for them. There is therefore nothing in the nature of prophecy to lessen the inherent improbability that the prophet’s actual standpoint is at variance with what is acknowledged to be his ideal standpoint. Nothing seems left for the consistent upholders of the traditional theory but to admit that the phenomenon is unique, and to urge (as Stier does) that there are other unique facts in history which no one dreams of questioning. That again is perfectly true, and if the fact were established no one would have a right to disbelieve it merely because nothing like it could be found elsewhere. But so long as the probability of the fact in itself is under discussion, to admit that it is unique is virtually to concede the whole matter in dispute.

By some, however, it is denied that the exilic standpoint is consistently maintained[56], and expressions are cited (principally from chs. 56–59) which are thought to shew that the writer lived before the Exile. These passages have an important bearing on the unity of the prophecy, a point on which something will have to be said in Chapter v.[57] In the present argument the unity of the book must be assumed, for obviously if that be abandoned the passages in question will speak only for themselves, and will not affect the authorship of the much more important parts of the prophecy where no such references occur. Let us suppose, then, that the allusions are really to the age of Manasseh, and that Isaiah was then alive and might have witnessed the state of things there described; what we have to consider is, For whose benefit are these descriptions penned? If it were seriously maintained that they are directly addressed to the contemporaries of Isaiah’s old age, there would be some plausibility in the contention that he is the writer of them. But this is not said by any believer in the unity of the prophecy. It is admitted that, like the rest of the book, they are spoken to the generation of the Exile. And if this be so, it is at least as likely that they were written by a prophet living in the Exile (who may have availed himself of older written material) as that they were prepared for this purpose beforehand by Isaiah himself. In either case the implication must be that the exiles shared the guilt of their forefathers’ idolatries, as not having disowned them by a genuine repentance; and that idea is perhaps more natural, certainly not less natural, in the mind of an exilic prophet, than in the mind of one living five generations before.

[56] See the quotation from Hengstenberg on p. xl, above.

[57] See pp. lv ff.

Another argument is based on the repeated allusions in the prophecy to predictions already fulfilled. Strangely enough it has been supposed that these predictions must be those of the prophecy itself, and from this assumption the inference is deduced that it must have been written long before the fulfilment in the age of the Exile. This is almost as much as to say that the prophecy must have been written before it was written. It makes the book to be at once a prediction and an appeal to the fulfilment of its own prediction in proof of its divine authority, a thing which is certainly without analogy in the prophetic literature. The writer is responsible for no such confusion. He nowhere says or implies that the fulfilled predictions were uttered by himself, still less that they are contained in this book. He distinguishes in the clearest manner between the predictions that have come to pass and those that still await their verification[58]. He himself claims to be the medium of new prophecies concerning the deliverance of Israel and the glorious future to follow, but he does not claim to be the author of those to which he triumphantly appeals as evidences of the Divine foreknowledge. What prophecies they were that he had in view we cannot now determine, but they were predictions of the rise and conquests of Cyrus, and these are events which he himself never predicts but always assumes as known.

[58] See p. xxi above.

The reader must be left to form his own judgement on the considerations thus far submitted. But unless they can be neutralised by evidence from some other quarter it is difficult to resist the conclusion that they constitute a strong presumption in favour of the exilic authorship of the prophecy.

2. We have next to compare the leading ideas of the prophet’s theology, as described in Chapter 3, with those characteristic of Isaiah (Vol. i. pp. xliii–lxiii). Arguments from this source may seem to many less cogent than either those derived from historical allusions or those based on a comparison of language. It may be thought that a prophet’s ideas, being communicated to him through divine inspiration, are independent of the ordinary laws of human thinking. Or, again, it may be said that the ideas in the second part of the book are the development of those in the first, and that it is impossible to distinguish the development which takes place in a single mind from that which is wrought out in the course of several generations. But a thoughtful reader of the Old Testament would be slow to entertain the first of these suggestions, because it is absolutely certain that the prophetic inspiration was not an influence which suppressed the human individuality of the writers or suspended the normal operations of their minds. And when every allowance is made for the possibility of development within the limits of the individual mind, it still remains in some degree improbable that a prophet like Isaiah, who through a long life operates with one set of distinctive conceptions, should in the end abandon them, and adopt others of a different character.

There is a difference, (a) first of all, in the conception of God as presented in the two parts of the book. The writer of chs. 40 ff. loves to expatiate on the infinitude and eternity of Jehovah, on His incomparableness, on the fact that He is the universal Creator, the bestower of Life, the omnipresent ruler of history. Universality, indeed, may be said to be the distinctive feature in the writer’s thoughts about God. These truths are no doubt implicitly contained in Isaiah’s idea of God, but we search his undisputed prophecies in vain for any direct inculcation of them. If they do not belong of necessity to a later stage of revelation, they are at least more intelligible in an age when Israel’s views of the world had been expanded by the breaking up of the political system in which Isaiah’s life was spent, and by direct contact with the power and civilisation of the greatest empire of the world. (b) Again, one of Isaiah’s most characteristic doctrines is that of the elect remnant of Israel, which is to survive the judgement and inherit the promise of the future. This doctrine is not, indeed, wholly absent from the later chapters (see Isaiah 59:20, Isaiah 65:8-9), but it occupies a very insignificant and subordinate place and “is not more prominent than it is in the writings of many later prophets[59].” (c) On the other hand, the mission and destiny of Israel as a whole are expounded in these chapters in a manner to which there is no parallel in the uncontested writings of Isaiah. (d) To take one more example, perhaps the most striking of all, the central position occupied by the Messianic King in the writings of Isaiah is assumed in chs. 40 ff. by the entirely distinct figure of the Servant of Jehovah. It is possible (though denied by most expositors) that there is a single allusion to the Messianic King in ch. Isaiah 55:3-4. But even if this be the case, it only illustrates the wholly secondary position which the idea holds in the writer’s thinking. Nor can it be supposed that the figure of the Servant of Jehovah is a form into which that of the Messiah might have developed at a late stage in Isaiah’s career; it is a new creation, resting on different analogies, an idealisation not of the King, but of the Prophet. Many other points of difference might be adduced, if space permitted; but these are perhaps sufficient. They relate to features which are distinctive, on the one side or the other, and there are no conceptions at all distinctive in which the two sections of the book agree. Whatever weight, therefore, may be assigned to these considerations, it is at least undeniable that they point rather to diversity than to identity of authorship.

[59] Driver (Isaiah 2, p. 206), who instances Amos 5:15; Amos 9:9; Micah 2:12; Micah 5:7 f.; Zephaniah 3:13; Jeremiah 4:27; Jeremiah 30:11; Jeremiah 31:7.

3. The evidence of style and language is very decidedly against the probability that Isaiah is the author of chs. 40–66. The general style of these chapters presents in many respects a strong contrast to that of Isaiah. The difference is one to be felt rather than described; and it may readily be felt, even through the medium of a translation. Speaking broadly, it may be said that Isaiah’s style is distinguished by force and compression, while that of the later chapters is profuse and flowing, with a marked tendency to amplification and repetition. Isaiah, with the exception of a few favourite and graphic phrases, rarely repeats himself, and never dilates, but the writer of chs. 40–66 constantly reverts to a few fixed themes, in language which might be monotonous if it were not always impressive. In illustration of this full and expansive manner of expression, two stylistic peculiarities may be mentioned, to neither of which is there any strict parallel in Isaiah: (1) the duplication of the opening word of a sentence or of some other emphatic word (Isaiah 40:1, Isaiah 43:11; Isaiah 43:25, Isaiah 48:11; Isaiah 48:15, Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 51:12; Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 52:11, Isaiah 57:6; Isaiah 57:14, Isaiah 62:10, Isaiah 65:1); and (2) the habit of attaching a series of descriptive participial (or relative) clauses to the name of God, or Israel, or Cyrus (see Isaiah 40:22 f., 28 f., Isaiah 41:8 f., 17, Isaiah 42:5, Isaiah 43:16 f., Isaiah 45:7; Isaiah 45:18, Isaiah 46:10 f., &c., and especially the splendid passage Isaiah 44:24-28). A corresponding difference of imaginative quality may also be detected: each writer is gifted in an unusual degree with the sense of the sublime; but the sublimity of Isaiah’s images is that of concentrated (often destructive) energy, while the later writer’s imagination revels chiefly in the thought of physical magnitude (the spacious heavens, the innumerable starry host, the mountains, the coast-lands, &c.). There is besides a strain of pathos in the imagery of the later part of the book which is absent from that of Isaiah (see Driver, Isaiah 2, pp. 182 ff.).

But the linguistic argument is capable of being brought to a definite test by a comparison of the words and phrases characteristic of the two portions of the book. There is of course a large number of expressions common to both, and imposing lists of such expressions have been drawn up for the purpose of shewing that the style is the same. But on examination these lists shrink to very insignificant dimensions, and really prove little more than that both sections are written in good Hebrew[60]. The only coincidences which arrest attention are the three following: (1) Isaiah’s designation of Jehovah as “the Holy One of Israel,” which occurs fourteen times in chs. 40–66, and only five times outside the book of Isaiah. This is undoubtedly an important link of connexion. But it has to be observed that a phrase like this, expressing an important theological idea, is just one of those likely to be borrowed by one writer from another, and therefore, unless supported by other resemblances, it hardly counts in the argument for unity of authorship. (2) The divine title “Mighty One (’ǎbîr) of Israel (or Jacob)” occurs in ch. Isaiah 1:24, Isaiah 49:26, and Isaiah 60:16 (also in Genesis 49:24; Psalm 132:2; Psalm 132:5). The coincidence is not important, since the phrase is obviously borrowed by the various writers from the blessing of Jacob (Genesis 49:24). Moreover ch. Isaiah 60:16 is clearly a quotation from Isaiah 49:26. (3) The formula “saith Jehovah,” with the imperfect tense instead of the usual perfect. This is found in ch. Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 1:18, Isaiah 33:10, Isaiah 40:1; Isaiah 40:25, Isaiah 41:21, Isaiah 66:9; also in Psalm 12:5. It must be admitted that this is a stylistic peculiarity of the kind which would establish literary identity, but being an almost solitary instance, it has little weight, and is more than counterbalanced by the contrary evidence now to be adduced.

[60] For example, a list of 34 such words is given by Cheyne (not of course with the object of proving identical authorship) in his Introduction, pp. 251 ff. If the reader will take the trouble to go through this list, and strike out (1) words which are found in chs. 1–39 only in passages probably not written by Isaiah, and (2) those found only once in either part of the book, and therefore not as a rule distinctive of its style, he will find that not more than six remain. These are “seek Jehovah,” Jacob, “house of Jacob,” “high and lifted up,” tôrâh (= instruction), and a rare form of the preposition from. All these except the fourth are frequent in other writings. A list of 7 divine titles (ibid. p. 254) is equally indecisive, except as regards “the Holy One of Israel,” which is discussed above.

Over against this somewhat slender array of coincidences we have to set a large number of characteristic expressions in which the two writings differ. König[61] justly remarks that in this discussion special importance attaches to those slighter and less significant elements of discourse where one word might indifferently be substituted for another, so that a marked preference for any particular idiom can only be due to the literary habit of the author or his age. He instances the following cases of this kind as characteristic of the second part of Isaiah (the list is here slightly abridged and corrected in some points):—

[61] Offenbarungsbegriff des A. T. Vol. 1. pp. 211 f.; Einleitung, p. 322.

(1) ’aph (= also, with various shades of meaning): twenty-two times in chs. 40–48; never in undisputed portions of Isaiah (?33:2).

(2) bal (negative particle): eight times; never in Isaiah (unless ch. Isaiah 33:20-24 be written by him).

(3) hçn (= behold): about twenty-one times; twice in Isaiah (Isaiah 23:13, Isaiah 32:1;? Isaiah 33:7).

(4) (relative pronoun): Isaiah 42:24, Isaiah 43:21; never in Isaiah.

(5) lěma‘an (= in order that): sixteen times; once in Isaiah (Isaiah 5:19).

(6) mě’ôd (= very): Isaiah 47:9, Isaiah 56:12, Isaiah 64:9; Isaiah 64:12; in Isaiah 31:1.

(7) pě‘ullâh (= work, reward): Isaiah 40:10, Isaiah 49:4, Isaiah 61:8, Isaiah 62:11, Isaiah 65:7; nowhere in Isaiah.

(8) çedeq (= righteousness): about seventeen times; in Isaiah only Isaiah 1:21; Isaiah 1:26, Isaiah 11:4 f., Isaiah 32:1.

(9) sûs, sasôn, masôs (= rejoice, joy): some fourteen times; three times in Isaiah.

(10) tôhû (= chaos, nothingness): about eight times; in Isaiah once (Isaiah 29:21).

(11) lě‘ôlâm (= for ever): Isaiah 40:8, Isaiah 47:7, Isaiah 51:6; Isaiah 51:8, Isaiah 60:21; and tâmíd (= continually): Isaiah 49:16, Isaiah 51:13, Isaiah 52:5, Isaiah 58:11, Isaiah 60:11, Isaiah 62:6, Isaiah 65:3. Isaiah uses lânéçaḥ (Isaiah 28:28), and lě‘ad (Isaiah 30:8).

(12) ’ôth is written for ’eth (= with) in Isaiah 54:15, Isaiah 59:21;—a mark of late style.

(13) lâmô (an unusual suffix): Isaiah 43:8, Isaiah 44:7; Isaiah 44:15 (?53:8).

To these should be added:

(14) yaḥad, yaḥdâv (= together): a peculiar pleonastic idiom illustrated by Isaiah 41:19-20, and occurring some fifteen times in chs. 40–66.

The following is a list of more expressive words and phrases, more or less characteristic of the later chapters, and occurring either not at all or only once in the undisputed portions of Isaiah[62]:—

[62] This list and the next are for the most part abridged from the three given in Driver’s Isaiah 2, pp. 194–199, which the reader should by all means consult. The dependence was inevitable; the object being to present but a few of the clearest cases, a more judicious selection than Driver’s could not be made.

(15) all flesh: Isaiah 40:5-6, Isaiah 49:26, Isaiah 66:16; Isaiah 66:23-24.

(16) ’ônîm (= strength): Isaiah 40:26; Isaiah 40:29.

(17) ’epheṣ (= nothing): Isaiah 40:17, Isaiah 41:12; Isaiah 41:29, Isaiah 45:6; Isaiah 45:14, Isaiah 46:9, Isaiah 47:8; Isaiah 47:10, Isaiah 52:4, Isaiah 54:15. In Isaiah only Isaiah 5:8.

(18) ’iyyîm (= coast-lands): Isaiah 40:15, Isaiah 41:1; Isaiah 41:5, Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 42:10; Isaiah 42:12; Isaiah 42:15, Isaiah 49:1, Isaiah 51:5, Isaiah 59:18, Isaiah 60:9, Isaiah 66:19. In Isaiah only the sing. ’iy, in its proper restricted signification, Isaiah 20:6, Isaiah 23:2; Isaiah 23:6.

(19) ends (or end) of the earth: Isaiah 40:28, Isaiah 41:5; Isaiah 41:9, Isaiah 42:10, Isaiah 43:6, Isaiah 45:22, Isaiah 48:20, Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 52:10, Isaiah 62:11.

(20) gâ’al (= redeem): verb and participle are used over 20 times.

(21) bârâ’ (= create): about sixteen times; in Isaiah only Isaiah 4:5,—a doubtful passage.

(22) choose, chosen (of Israel or the Servant of Jehovah): twelve times.

(23) Lift up (your) eyes &c.: Isaiah 40:26, Isaiah 49:18, Isaiah 51:6, Isaiah 60:4.

(24) ḥçpheç (= pleasure), Isaiah 54:12, Isaiah 62:4 : (= purpose), Isaiah 44:28, Isaiah 46:10, Isaiah 48:14, Isaiah 53:10 : (= business), Isaiah 58:3; Isaiah 58:13.

(25) pâ’çr (= deck) and hithpâ’çr (= deck oneself): Isaiah 44:23, Isaiah 49:3, Isaiah 55:5, Isaiah 60:7; Isaiah 60:9; Isaiah 60:13; Isaiah 60:21, Isaiah 61:3. In Isa. only Isaiah 10:15.

(26) break out into singing: Isaiah 44:23, Isaiah 49:13, Isaiah 52:9, Isaiah 54:1, Isaiah 55:12.

(27) hillçl and těhillâh (= praise, vb. and subst.), hithhallçl (= exult): Isaiah 41:16, Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 42:10; Isaiah 42:12, Isaiah 43:21, Isaiah 45:25, Isaiah 48:9, Isaiah 60:6; Isaiah 60:18, Isaiah 61:3; Isaiah 61:11, Isaiah 62:7; Isaiah 62:9, Isaiah 63:7, Isaiah 64:11 [10].

(28) ḥâshâh (qal and hiph. = be silent): Isaiah 42:14, Isaiah 57:11, Isaiah 62:1; Isaiah 62:6, Isaiah 64:12, Isaiah 65:6.

(29) çe’ěçâ’îm (= offspring): Isaiah 42:5, Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 48:19, Isaiah 61:9, Isaiah 65:23. Isa. only Isaiah 22:24.

(30) çâmaḥ (= sprout): Isaiah 44:4, Isaiah 45:8, Isaiah 55:10, Isaiah 58:8, Isaiah 61:11. Note the unique metaphorical application to an event coming to pass, in Isaiah 42:9, Isaiah 43:19.

(31) Holy City: Isaiah 48:2, Isaiah 52:1 (cf. Isaiah 64:10).

(32) râçôn (= favour): Isaiah 49:8, Isaiah 56:7, Isaiah 58:5, Isaiah 60:7; Isaiah 60:10, Isaiah 61:2.

(33) from the first (mçrôsh): Isaiah 40:21, Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 41:26, Isaiah 48:16.

(34) lay to heart: Isaiah 42:25, Isaiah 47:7, Isaiah 57:1; Isaiah 57:11.

Still more suggestive is a list of Isaiah’s characteristic expressions, not found at all in chs. 40–66. The following examples (from Driver) must suffice:—

(1) The Lord, Jehovah of Hosts: Isaiah 1:24, Isaiah 3:1, Isaiah 10:16; Isaiah 10:33, Isaiah 19:4.

(2) ’elîlîm (= nonentities, of idols): Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 2:18; Isaiah 2:20, Isaiah 10:11, Isaiah 19:1; Isaiah 19:3, Isaiah 31:7.

(3) mirmâs (= trampling): Isaiah 5:5, Isaiah 7:25, Isaiah 10:6, Isaiah 28:18.

(4) glory (of a nation): Isaiah 5:13, Isaiah 8:7, Isaiah 10:16; Isaiah 10:18, Isaiah 16:14, Isaiah 17:3-4; (of an individual), Isaiah 22:18.

(5) smear (of the eyes): Isaiah 6:10, Isaiah 29:9, Isaiah 32:3.

(6) ṣikṣçk (= incite): Isaiah 9:11, Isaiah 19:2 (nowhere else).

(7) shě’âr (= remnant): Isaiah 7:3, Isaiah 10:19-22, Isaiah 16:14, Isaiah 17:3, Isaiah 28:5.

(8) final and decisive work: Isaiah 10:23, Isaiah 28:22.

(9) the figure of the scourge: Isaiah 10:26, Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 28:18.

(10) flying sâraph: Isaiah 14:29, Isaiah 30:6 (nowhere else).

(11) kabbîr (= numerous, mighty, &c.): Isaiah 16:14, Isaiah 17:12, Isaiah 28:2. Only seven times in Job besides.

(12) měbûṣâh (= treading down): Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 18:7, Isaiah 22:5 (nowhere else).

(13) çâbâ’ (= to war): Isaiah 29:7-8, Isaiah 31:4 (uncommon).

(14) sérem (= streaming rain): Isaiah 28:2 bis, Isaiah 30:30, Isaiah 32:2.

(15) briers and thorns: Isaiah 5:6, Isaiah 7:23-25, Isaiah 9:18, Isaiah 10:17. Except in Isaiah 27:4, Isaiah 32:13, neither word occurs elsewhere.

(16) miz‘âr (= a little): Isaiah 10:25, Isaiah 16:14, Isaiah 29:17.

It is impossible to pursue the subject further. The evidence of style is as conclusive as could be desired, and amply confirms the deduction to be naturally drawn from the historical setting of the prophecy and its leading conceptions. The resulting impression is so strong that probably few will hesitate to acquiesce in the statement that “if the great prophecy of Israel’s redemption and glorification now included in the Book of Isaiah had come down to us as an independent and anonymous document, no reasonable doubt could have been entertained as to the time at which it was written. Internal evidence would be regarded as fixing its date with remarkable precision towards the close of the Babylonian Exile[63].”[64]

[63] Kirkpatrick, Doctrine of the Prophets2, p. 353.

[64] With regard to the place where the author wrote, little can be said except that it is most reasonably to be assumed that he lived in Babylonia. That was probably the only country where he could have had any considerable audience of exiled Israelites; and that he was actually in direct touch with an audience can hardly be doubted, in view of the eager and passionate pleadings in which the book abounds. Allusions to Babylonia are as numerous as could be expected (see Isaiah 44:27, Isaiah 45:1 f., 3, Isaiah 46:1 f., Isaiah 47:8-15, &c.), and quite as specific as those to be found in Ezekiel, who lived there; although they are perhaps hardly definite enough to determine the matter absolutely by themselves. The view of Ewald and Bunsen, that the book was written in Egypt, rests on no solid grounds, and Duhm’s arguments in favour of Phœnicia are equally unconvincing. The idea that it was composed in Judæa has a certain plausibility as far as some of the later chapters are concerned, but is wholly inconsistent with the allusions of chs. 40–48. It is, of course, conceivable that the author might have returned to Palestine with Zerubbabel in 536, and that parts of the prophecy might be subsequent to that event. (See Appendix, Note III.)

The only question that remains is whether all these considerations can fairly be held to be outweighed by the circumstance that the prophecy does form part of the book of Isaiah, or by the all but unbroken tradition in favour of the Isaianic authorship. That tradition is unquestionably very ancient. It is attested by Jesus the son of Sirach (ch. Isaiah 48:22-22)[65], by several New Testament writers (Matthew 3:3 and parallels, Matthew 8:17, Matthew 12:17; Luke 4:17; John 1:23; Acts 8:28; Romans 10:16; Romans 10:20) and by Josephus (Archaeol. XI. 1, § 2; cf. X. 2, § 2)[66]; and is unhesitatingly accepted by subsequent Jewish and Christian opinion. Yet it may be doubted if all this weight of authority really adds any evidence whatever to the fact that the prophecy stands in the Canon under the name of Isaiah. It is not an unreasonable assumption that the belief that Isaiah is the author rested originally on nothing else than the canonical title of the book, and was simply transmitted without examination from one generation to another. This possibility would be admitted readily enough in the case of the secular writers that have been referred to. To many it may seem that the New Testament writers, in virtue of their inspiration, stand on a different footing. But this is surely to press the doctrine of inspiration to a dangerous extreme. In no single instance is it material to the purpose for which the quotation is made, whether the author be Isaiah or a prophet of the Exile; and to say that an inspired writer may not use the current language of his time in referring to a book of Scripture without imperilling the veracity of the author of Revelation, is a position to which no wise man would wish to be committed.

[65] Vv. 24 f. “He saw by an excellent spirit what should come to pass at the last; and he comforted them that mourned in Zion. He shewed the things that should be to the end of time, and the hidden things or ever they came.” See Vol. I. p. 73.

[66] See Note on ch. Isaiah 44:28.

What weight, then, is to be assigned to the fact that the prophecy is included in the book of Isaiah? The view taken by critical scholars is the very simple one that the incorporation was the work of an editor of the prophetical literature,—a point, by the way, which seems to be imperfectly apprehended by those writers who so persistently impute to critics the imaginary crime of “sawing Isaiah asunder.” Critics do not profess to know who the editor was, or what were the precise motives by which he was guided; it is enough to know that the operation is perfectly conceivable, and that a variety of reasons might easily be suggested for it[67]. Nor is it an isolated instance in the history of prophetic writings. In Jeremiah 51:64 we find a note (evidently the work of an editor), “thus far are the words of Jeremiah”; and it is practically certain that the book of Zechariah contains the work of three separate prophets. Whether, therefore, the editor supposed the prophecy to be a genuine work of Isaiah, or whether for some other reason he decided to add it to the collection of his prophecies, the fact that it stands there is far from being a conclusive proof that Isaiah is the author. And since a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, it cannot be held that even a tradition of 2,000 years is sufficient to invalidate the critical arguments for the late date of the prophecy.

[67] Kirkpatrick (Doctrine of the Prophets2, p. 363), suggests that “a partial explanation [of the position of the prophecy] may be found in the form of ancient books. The prophecy was annexed to Isaiah 1-39, in order to form a volume approximately equal to those of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets. If it was anonymous it would soon come to be ascribed to Isaiah.”

It is but fair to notice another kind of external evidence to which considerable importance is attached by some scholars, viz., the alleged use by certain pre-exilic prophets of the last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah. This is thought to be proved by a comparison of parallel passages, of which the clearest examples are: Jeremiah 10:1-16 with ch. Isaiah 44:12-15, &c.; Jeremiah 30:10 f. (= Jeremiah 46:27 f.) with ch. Isaiah 43:1-6, &c.; Jeremiah 31:12 with ch. Isaiah 58:11; Jeremiah 31:35 with ch. Isaiah 51:15; Jeremiah 33:3 with ch. Isaiah 48:6; Jeremiah 50:2; Jeremiah 50:8 with Isaiah 46:1, Isaiah 48:20; Nahum 1:15 with Isaiah 52:7; Nahum 3:4-5 with Isaiah 47:3; Isaiah 47:9; Nahum 3:7 with Isaiah 51:19; Zephaniah 2:15 with Isaiah 47:8; Isaiah 47:10. In some of these cases the resemblance is slight, and may be accidental, but in others it is so close as to create an irresistible impression of literary dependence, on one side or the other. In no instance, however, can it be pronounced with confidence on which side the priority lies, the supposition that the second Isaiah borrowed from his predecessors being, in itself, just as reasonable as that pre-exilic prophets borrowed from him. In three of the parallels there is perhaps a certain presumption that the Isaianic passage is the original; these are Jeremiah 10:1-16; Jeremiah 30:10 f., and Nahum 1:15; but each of these passages is suspected on independent grounds of being an interpolation in the pre-exilic book where it stands. In any event, the presumption is not strong enough to counterbalance any decided probability in the opposite direction. Moreover, the force of the argument from verbal parallelisms would seem to be neutralised by the fact that no pre-exilic writer betrays any knowledge that the end of the Babylonian Exile had been distinctly foretold by Isaiah the son of Amoz. It would be a very singular and unaccountable thing if the latter part of Isaiah had been studied by a succession of prophets with such care that its phrases passed into their style, while none of them ever suffers it to appear that he had assimilated the contents of the book. It cannot be too strongly insisted that the whole discussion is a balancing of probabilities, and it will generally be found that the argument from parallel passages can be used on either side to strengthen that conclusion which on other grounds seems most probable.


Unity of the Prophecy

The most difficult of the current critical questions in regard to the second part of Isaiah are those concerning the unity or integrity of the volume. Whether the prophecy is the work of a single writer, whether it was composed wholly before the close of the Exile, or in part after the Return, whether the writer has adopted fragments from earlier prophecies into his own work, these are matters on which the utmost diversity of opinion exists among recent scholars. And although it is neither desirable nor possible in this place to enter fully into the discussion of them, there are two questions of such magnitude and importance that a few pages must be devoted to their consideration[68].

[68] There are of course numerous passages supposed, with more or less reason, to be interpolated, but these have to be considered in detail.

1. The first relates to the genuineness of the so-called “Servant-passages” (Isaiah 42:1-4, Isaiah 49:1-6, Isaiah 50:4-9, Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12). Ewald, in 1841, was the first great critic who expressed the opinion that ch. Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12 was borrowed by the prophet from an earlier composition (which he assigned to the age of Manasseh); and similar views have been advocated with regard to this passage by several subsequent writers. More recently the tendency has been to recognise a close affinity between the four great descriptions of the Servant of Jehovah, and to apply the same critical methods to them all. Thus the question raised, in its most general form, is whether these four passages form an integral part of the exilic prophecy of chs. 40 ff., or whether they are the work of another writer, who may have lived either before or after that date.

It may be remarked that so long as the negative theory is held in the form in which it was propounded by Ewald, the question has but a secondary interest for the interpreter. “The question he asks is not what may possibly have been the original meaning of ch. 53 but what is its meaning now as it stands an integral part of the magnificent production of which it is the crown[69].” If it be admitted that the disputed passages passed through the mind of the exilic author, and were by himself incorporated in his work, it matters comparatively little whether he originally wrote them or drew them from an independent source; they form an essential element of his teaching, and for all practical purposes may be treated as if they were his own work. It is only when they are classed as real interpolations, inserted without the knowledge of the author and after his book was completed, that the issue becomes of serious consequence. This is the position assumed by some writers, notably by Duhm, who thinks that the fragments may have been inserted by an editor, almost at hap-hazard, where there chanced to be a convenient space in the manuscript; an almost incredible hypothesis, which, at least in this extreme form, is not likely to be sustained. Some who follow Duhm, such as Kosters[70], have perceived that the first three passages cannot be lifted from their places without carrying some of the succeeding verses with them, and find accordingly that the interpolations must be more extensive than Duhm supposed. But this kind of criticism is exceedingly hazardous when applied to a work like the second Isaiah, where one has only to read on far enough to obtain a new point of connexion with something that has gone before. For the rest, the present writer must be content to express his general agreement with the conclusion of Cheyne, which is that while it cannot be shewn that the “Servant-passages” have sprung immediately from the preceding context, “they have in general exercised such an influence on the following sections that they cannot well have been inserted by anyone but II. Isaiah himself[71]”; and further that it is not “at all impossible that they may be the work of II. Isaiah himself[72].”

[69] Davidson, Expositor, 2nd Series, Vol. VI. p. 87.

[70] Theologisch Tijdschrift, 1896, pp. 588 ff.

[71] Introduction, p. 307. In Cheyne’s view, the latter statement is only partially true of ch. Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, which he regards as an insertion made by the author after the completion of the work, and therefore without direct influence on the succeeding context.

[72] Ibid. p. 309. The suggestion is that they were composed by the prophet at an earlier period of his life. Even this concession does not seem to me necessary. If it be the practice of the writer “to take up one of the Servant-passages as a suggestive theme” for a fresh start in his argument, there can be no great difficulty in supposing that he wrote them for that purpose along with the rest of the prophecy.

2. Another critical question of some importance arises in connexion with the later chapters of the prophecy. Certain peculiarities of these chapters (particularly 56–59, 63–66) have for a long time engaged the attention of critics. Their style differs considerably from that of the earlier part of the volume; their tone is much less hopeful and buoyant, they lay far greater stress on the externals of religion (e.g. Sabbath-observance and the Temple ritual), they appear to be addressed to a Jewish community possessing a certain measure of political independence, and the allusions to natural scenery indicate that this community was settled in Palestine. These circumstances conspire to render the literary unity of the second Isaiah very difficult of belief; and those who hold that the book is on the whole the work of a single author have usually sought to explain them by two assumptions: first, that the exilic author has embodied fragments of pre-exilic prophecies in his work, adapting them to his own purpose; and secondly, that some portions may have been written after the high hopes with which he started had been damped, and possibly after he had returned to Palestine. Of late years, however, and especially since the appearance of Duhm’s commentary in 1892, the idea has gained favour in many quarters that the whole of the third division of the prophecy (chs. 56–66) is of post-exilic origin, and was written by one or more prophets living in Jerusalem about the time of Nehemiah.

It cannot be denied that this theory has much to recommend it. The condition of the people during the first century after the Restoration is very imperfectly known, but the state of things revealed by the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah[73], and Malachi embraces several features which correspond to the allusions of chs. 56–66. The following are some of the circumstances which are appealed to in support of the post-exilic authorship of this part of the prophecy:—(1) The existence of the Temple appears to be presupposed in ch. Isaiah 56:7, Isaiah 60:7, Isaiah 62:9, more clearly in Isaiah 65:11, Isaiah 66:6. It is quite possible to interpret the first three references of a Temple yet unbuilt, but this suggestion cannot be so readily entertained with regard to the two remaining cases. If the impression that an actually existing Temple is referred to be correct, the date of the passages would be fixed as later than b.c. 515 (Ezra 6:15, &c.). (2) Ch. Isaiah 56:8 seems to imply that a partial gathering of exiled Israelites has taken place, and promises that others shall yet be gathered. None of the other allusions to a restoration of exiles (Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 60:8, Isaiah 66:20) contain anything inconsistent with this; they can all be naturally understood of the Dispersion that remained after the first return from Babylon. (3) The social conditions dealt with in the prophecy are in accordance with those which are known to have existed after the Exile. Oppression of the poor by the rich or of slaves by their masters (Isaiah 58:3-6; Isaiah 58:9, Isaiah 59:3 f., 13 ff.) is attested by Nehemiah 5 and Malachi 3:5. The description of the leaders of the community as worthless, greedy and self-indulgent (Isaiah 56:10-12) is illustrated by the conduct of the worldly-minded priests who sought their advantage in family alliances with their half-heathen neighbours (Ezra 9:1-2; Nehemiah 13:4; Nehemiah 13:28), or the hireling prophets who tried to undermine the influence of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:10-14). There are also traces of that cleavage into two parties,—one strict, fearing Jehovah and trembling at His word, the other lax and indifferent to all religious interests—which the book of Malachi proves to have existed in the first century after the Restoration (see ch. Isaiah 57:1; Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 57:20, Isaiah 59:4-8; Isaiah 59:18, Isaiah 65:8; Isaiah 65:13 ff., Isaiah 66:5; and comp. Malachi 3:5; Malachi 3:15-18). These facts, taken together, seem to imply a date either earlier or later than the Exile, and the parallels in post-exilic writings go to shew that the latter alternative is at least as probable as the former. (4) There are repeated allusions in these chapters to a section of the population addicted to idolatrous practices of a very peculiar kind (Isaiah 57:3-13, Isaiah 65:1-7; Isaiah 65:11 f., Isaiah 66:3 f., 17). It is an interesting suggestion of Duhm’s that these passages refer to the mixed population (of Israelites, Ammonites, Arabians, &c.) which had settled in the land during the Exile, particularly the half-caste Samaritans, who had at first sought a share in the building of the Temple (Ezra 4:1 ff.), but afterwards, on being repulsed, did their utmost to weaken the hands of the strictly religious party in Jerusalem. The persons spoken of are described as “brethren” of the God-fearing Jews (Isaiah 66:5) and at the same time as the most bitter enemies of the Temple-community (Isaiah 57:4, Isaiah 66:5); they pride themselves on their “righteousness” (Isaiah 57:12), although they have been unfaithful to Jehovah (Isaiah 57:8) and “forgotten” His holy mountain (Isaiah 65:11); the comparison of ch. Isaiah 57:3 certainly gains in force if understood of a hybrid race like the Samaritans. These things could not be said of pure heathen; they might no doubt be said of a section of the Israelites themselves, but perhaps their fittest application is to the community of whom it is recorded that “they feared Jehovah and served their own gods” (2 Kings 17:33). (5) The prophet gives utterance to a feeling which prevailed amongst the post-exilic Jews when he complains that the promised redemption is delayed, and finds the explanation of the delay in the moral condition of the people (ch. Isaiah 59:1-15). Such a feeling is never expressed in the earlier part of the book (with the doubtful exception of ch. Isaiah 48:17-19); and it is difficult to believe that it could have arisen in the interval between the appearing of the prophet and the close of the Exile. (6) In addition to all this, the theory of Duhm is recommended by its comparative simplicity. It has the merit of applying a single explanation to a large number of congruous phenomena; and this is more than can be said for any tenable form of the theory that the whole material has passed through the hands of the principal author. The idea that a writer so original as the second Isaiah should have copied long passages from earlier prophets in order to convey his own message to his countrymen is not a natural one; and if the literary unity of the prophecy is only to be saved by such expedients as that, it is a question whether the problem is not really simplified by ascribing the later chapters to an independent author, addressing a different audience.

[73] It must be remembered, however, that Haggai and Zechariah are separated from the time of Nehemiah by an interval of nearly 80 years (see Chronological Table, p. lxi). Any illustrations drawn from their writings are of value only in so far as they reveal a state of things likely to have persisted through that long space of time.

These arguments are, of course, not decisive, and may not be such as to overcome the natural reluctance to carry the disintegration of the prophetic books further than can be proved absolutely necessary. And there are some considerations on the other side which must not be overlooked. (1) Chs. 60–62 so closely resemble the work of the second Isaiah that it may seem hardly reasonable to assign them to a different author. The question may fairly be raised whether the resemblance is more than superficial, and whether a close examination of chs. 60–62 does not shew that the existence of the Temple and the Jewish State is there presupposed. Still the presumption that this is the case can scarcely be said to be much stronger than in the similar descriptions of chs. 49–54, which only a few critics have supposed to be written in Palestine. (2) A large number of coincidences, both of thought and expression, are to be found distributed over the whole prophecy, and form an important link of connexion between the two parts. Compare, for example, ch. Isaiah 56:1 with Isaiah 46:13; ch. Isaiah 57:14, Isaiah 62:10 with Isaiah 48:20, Isaiah 52:11-12; Isaiah 58:12, Isaiah 61:4 with Isaiah 49:8; Isaiah 59:16, Isaiah 63:5 with Isaiah 50:2; Isaiah 59:17 with Isaiah 42:13; Isaiah 59:21 with Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 60:14; Isaiah 60:16, Isaiah 66:11 with Isaiah 49:23; Isaiah 61:1-3 with the Servant-passages; Isaiah 61:2 with Isaiah 49:8; Isaiah 61:11 with Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 62:11 with Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah 66:22 with Isaiah 51:6; Isaiah 66:8 with Isaiah 54:1;—a list which might be extended. It is difficult to determine whether such affinities indicate unity of authorship or only the influence of one author on another, or, in some instances, direct quotation of the earlier by the later. (3) Although there is no unambiguous declaration that the release from Babylon is still future, yet the two passages Isaiah 57:14 and Isaiah 62:10 ff. so much resemble ch. Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah 48:20, and Isaiah 52:11 f. as to suggest that they refer to that event. Duhm thinks that in these cases (as in others) the post-exilic writer has adopted the idea from his predecessor, but applied it figuratively, to the removal of spiritual obstacles to the redemption of Israel, a suggestion which may strike some minds as over-subtle. (4) The change in the prophet’s attitude (as compared with chs. 40–55) might be fully explained if we knew anything at all of the circumstances of the Jews in Babylon towards the close of the Exile. It is indeed conceivable that many features of their social and religious condition might furnish an even more satisfying explanation of the allusions in the prophecy than the parallels drawn from the meagre post-exilic records. Thus, the earlier part of the book contains indications of a division of parties, and it is not unlikely that the cleavage might have been accentuated as the deliverance drew near. Still, there are not many scholars who hold that all the phenomena of the prophecy can be thus accounted for; some parts are generally allowed to be so manifestly Palestinian in their colouring that, if not post-exilic, they must be based on pre-exilic documents. (5) The supposed references to the Samaritans, while instructive and plausible up to a certain point, yet lack the definiteness which was to have been expected and which is necessary to produce complete conviction. Moreover, they differ in some important particulars from what is otherwise known of that community and its relations with the Jews (see esp. on Isaiah 65:2)[74].

[74] See further, Appendix, Note III.

Whatever view be adopted regarding the literary integrity of the prophecy, there is a deeper unity in it which is not impaired by any critical theory of its authorship. If chs. 56–66 were not written by the same author as chs. 40–55 they were at least written by one who was imbued with the teaching of his pre-decessor, and consciously built on the foundations which he had laid. The brilliant promises of the second Isaiah had received but a meagre fulfilment in the return of the first colony of exiled Jews to Palestine; and the century that followed was in large measure a period of disenchantment, when “the prophecies, being read literally, proved a heritage of woe[75].” The existing state of things was one in which believing minds found it impossible to acquiesce. The restoration of the Jewish state might be a solid gain to the cause of religion, but it did not realise the glorious hopes that had been cherished with regard to it. It had not ushered in the everlasting salvation of which the prophet had spoken; it had not even brought great prosperity to Israel. The glory of the Lord had not been revealed so that all flesh could see it, and there were no signs of any movement of the Gentile world towards the true religion. Hence the great question that exercised the minds of devout Jews of this period was, Why does the Lord delay His coming? What hinders the complete fulfilment of His word? We know of some prophets who were raised up in the post-exilic age to answer that question, and to keep alive the faith in the ultimate triumph of Jehovah’s kingdom. And if it should prove that one prophet (or even more than one) has devoted himself to supplementing the work of the second Isaiah by presenting his ideals in fresh forms suited to the altered circumstances of the time, there is certainly nothing in that view which will cause disquietude to any unprejudiced student of Revelation, while there may be much to throw light on an interesting, though very obscure, portion of sacred history.

[75] Davidson, The Exile and the Restoration, p. 86.

chronological table




  Battle of Carchemish.

  Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.


  First deportation of Jewish Captives to Babylonia, with Jehoiachin.


  Destruction of Jerusalem, and second deportation of Jews, with Zedekiah.


  Evil-Merodach succeeds Nebuchadnezzar.






  Cyrus conquers Media.


  Defeats Crœsus and captures Sardis.


  Capture of Babylon.

  Return of exiles under Zerubbabel.




  Darius Hystaspis.






  Building of the Second Temple.


  Battle of Marathon.




  Battles of Thermopylæ and Salamis.


  Artaxerxes I. (Longimanus).


  Return of exiles under Ezra.

  Malachi (?).


  Nehemiah appointed Governor of Judæa.


  Introduction of the Law.


  Nehemiah’s second visit to Jerusalem.



The “Servant of Jehovah” in Ch. 40–55

The conception of the “Servant of Jehovah” in this prophecy is so difficult, and is the subject of so much controversy, that it may be useful to examine, more systematically than was possible in the Notes, the various theories that have been advanced. It hardly needs to be said how greatly the basis of discussion is affected by the tendency of some recent critics to isolate the four “Servant-passages” (ch. Isaiah 42:1-4, Isaiah 49:1-6, Isaiah 50:4-9, and Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12) and treat them as interpolations (see Introd. p. liv). Except in these places (and the appendices to two of them, Isaiah 42:5-7 and Isaiah 49:7-12) there is not the least doubt that the Servant of the Lord represents the people of Israel. Again, one of the principal arguments against the view that the Servant is ever an individual is the unlikelihood that the term should be used by the same writer in two different senses (Introd. p. xxxiii f.). But if the passages in question have no organic connexion with the rest of the prophecy, it becomes quite conceivable that we have to do with two distinct conceptions of the Servant, one being that of the second Isaiah himself, and the other that of the unknown author of the interpolated sections. It is therefore of some importance to ascertain, by an independent examination of the Servant-passages, whether this is the case. The writer of these pages does not indeed accept the hypothesis of interpolation; although he would admit that a radical divergence of view with regard to the Servant of Jehovah would be a strong argument in its favour. If, on the other hand, it should be found that the conception which prevails in the rest of the book is consistent with the teaching of these passages, this result will undoubtedly strengthen the presumption that they form an integral part of the prophecy.

The theories to be considered fall naturally into two clauses: (i) those which explain the Servant as a collective idea, representing either the nation of Israel or some smaller community within it; and (ii) those which regard the Servant as an individual. Both of these can in one form or another be traced back to ancient times, and each has points of contact in the recognised usage of the O.T. The individual explanation might be based on the application of the name to the great religious personalities of the O.T., such as Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5, &c.), David (Psalm 89:3; Psalm 89:20, &c.), Isaiah (Isaiah 20:3), Job (Isaiah 1:8, &c.) or the prophets generally (Amos 3:7; Jeremiah 7:25, &c.); while the collective theories are justified by its application to Israel in Ezekiel 28:25, &c.

i. That the Servant of Jehovah denotes Israel in some sense is the oldest interpretation for which literary evidence can be produced. Its antiquity is proved by the LXX., which inserts the words “Jacob” and “Israel” in its translation of ch. Isaiah 42:1. And if the word “Israel” in the Heb. text of Isaiah 49:3 be a gloss, it is at all events a very ancient gloss (being found in the LXX.); and both facts together shew how naturally the minds of early readers adopted the national interpretation of at least two of the Servant-passages. But this general view that the Servant is Israel is capable of several modifications, which it is necessary to consider separately.

(1) The simplest form of the theory is that generally maintained by the Jewish interpreters, although it has also been advocated by some Christian scholars (Hitzig, Reuss, Giesebrecht and others). In the view of these writers the Servant of Jehovah represents the whole people of Israel as it actually existed in history. The nation is of course personified and to a certain extent idealised, but there is no distinction in the prophet’s mind between the historical Israel and an ideal Israel; the conception is merely a poetic presentation of the destinies of the historic Israel, and the idealisation proceeds no further than in other parts of the second Isaiah. The chief recommendation of the theory, indeed, is that it attaches the same significance to the expression “Servant of Jehovah” wherever it occurs throughout the prophecy.

The difficulties of this interpretation appear when we apply it to the principal passage, ch. Isaiah 52:13 ff. It is necessary to assume that those who speak in Isaiah 53:1-6 are the Gentile nations, at whose hands Israel has suffered grievous wrongs, who have misjudged and despised it, but who now perceive that it has borne the chastisement of their sins. The whole passage becomes a parable of the history and destiny of the people of Jehovah. The death of the Servant denotes the Exile, which was the death of the nation; and his resurrection is a figure for the glorious restoration of Israel, which is followed by the conversion of the heathen to the true God. It is not to be denied that many features of the conception are satisfactorily explained by this hypothesis. That the idea of Israel suffering for the good of the world is foreign to the O.T. is not perhaps a decisive argument against it, for there is a truth in the idea (see Romans 11:11 f.), and on any view of the Servant the passage contains thoughts more profound than are expressed elsewhere in the O.T. But the insuperable objection to this explanation is the unnaturalness of the assumption that the speakers in Isaiah 53:1 ff. are the heathen. There is nothing in the language to suggest this; and the religious attitude expressed in these verses is such as no prophet could have attributed to the heathen world. When the pressure of the theory is relaxed, it is impossible to escape the impression that the speakers are Israelites, from which it necessarily follows that the Servant and the actual nation of Israel are not identical. And this inference is confirmed and put beyond all reasonable doubt by ch. Isaiah 49:1-6, where the idea that the Servant has a mission to discharge towards Israel shews that some distinction must be recognised between the Servant and the historical nation. This view, therefore, although it may contain elements of truth, does not satisfy all the conditions involved in the problem.

(2) A modified form of the national interpretation is that the Servant of Jehovah is a personification, not of Israel as a whole, but of the spiritual Israel, the religious kernel of the nation, on whom the sufferings of the Exile fell most severely, and in whom the hope of the future lay (Knobel, &c.). Much that is said of the Servant no doubt finds an explanation in the experience of this faithful minority of the people. It was their mission—and they were doubtless partly conscious of it—to bring their nation to repentance, and ultimately to extend the knowledge of God to the Gentiles. It is conceivable that in the discharge of this mission they suffered persecution at the hands of their own countrymen during the Exile. But it is difficult to think that there can have been such a difference between the mass of the exiles and the believing remnant as would account for the language of ch. 53. Although the national calamity was felt with peculiar severity by those who recognised it to be the just punishment of the sin of Israel, there was nothing in their outward lot that could have given rise to the impression that they were in a special degree the objects of the divine wrath. Moreover, the Servant is described as one who has died and is destined to be raised again from the dead. This has a meaning if the subject be Israel, which as a nation ceased to exist at the Exile; but it could not be said that the spiritual Israel died in the captivity. And even if this theory could be successfully carried through the Servant-passages, it would not be consistent with the teaching of the rest of the book. The people of Israel and the spiritual Israel are distinct subjects, and it is not likely that the same writer included both under a common designation.

(3) All these objections apply with equal force to a view advocated by Gesenius and a few others, that by the Servant is meant the prophetic order. This interpretation derives whatever plausibility it possesses from the prophetic traits in the delineation of the Servant’s person and work. But these are features inseparable from his function as the organ of Jehovah’s revelation, and can be explained on any interpretation of the title. Otherwise there is almost nothing to be said for this now discredited theory.

(4) There remains the view for which a preference is expressed in this volume, that the Servant of the Lord is the ideal Israel. The advantage of this definition is that, while harmonising the various references to the Servant which occur throughout the prophecy, it enables us to combine in a single conception the aspects of truth represented by other interpretations. The Servant is first of all a personification of Israel as it exists in the mind and purpose of God, of the ideal for the sake of which the nation has been chosen and towards which its history is being fashioned. This ideal has never yet been realised in the earthly Israel, and hence it is described (as in ch. Isaiah 42:1 ff.) in language which could not be used of any section of the historic people. But on the other hand, since the ideal is inseparably associated with the nation, it is intelligible that the significant facts of the history should be introduced into the portrait of the Servant, and that he should thus be spoken of as one who has passed through certain experiences and has still a career before him (Isaiah 49:1 ff., Isaiah 50:4 ff., Isaiah 52:13 ff.). On the same principle we can understand how the character and life of the Servant should reflect the experience of the spiritually-minded Israelites, who had become conscious of the nation’s destiny and mission; these formed an inner circle of religious fellowship, approximating more closely to the ideal than the nation as a whole had ever done. Again, it is natural to suppose that the concrete details of the picture (especially in ch. 53) were partly suggested by the fate of some eminent servant of God, such as Jeremiah, or, as others think, an unknown saint and martyr of the Exile. Finally, although this probably goes beyond the writer’s conscious meaning, the personification of the ideal Israel easily passes into the conception of the ideal Israelite, and thus the figure of the Servant becomes in a real sense an indirect prophecy of Jesus Christ. Israel, in fact, was a type of Christ, and Christ fulfilled the mission of Israel.

Some of the difficulties involved in this interpretation are dealt with in the Introduction (p. xxxiv) and these need not be referred to here. Amongst others which may occur to the reader perhaps the most important arises from the description of the Servant as a sacrifice in ch. 53. How, it will be asked, can the ideal Israel be said to suffer for the sins of individual Israelites? It is a question not easy to answer, but if the general conception be accepted the answer must be somewhat as follows. The fact of vicarious suffering was brought home to the mind of the prophet by what he observed in the spiritual history of his time. In the calamity of the Exile the greatest sufferers were necessarily those most loyal to Jehovah; and there may have been individuals, who might be considered innocent, whose tragic and inexplicable fate caused the greatest perplexity to believers in the justice of God. The problem of retribution was in the air, and was kept alive by facts like these. It may therefore be supposed that the prophet, with all this before him, was led further to perceive that the suffering of the righteous for the guilty is a divinely appointed law of the spiritual life, that it is a soteriological principle, and that this principle is so essentially bound up with the vocation of Israel that the Divine purpose of salvation could only be effected through its operation. If this was his thought, it was natural that it should find expression in his conception of the Servant of Jehovah, who embodies all that is of religious significance in the true idea of Israel. The sufferings of all the righteous men who bore on their hearts the burden of Israel’s guilt, are transferred to the ideal figure in whom Israel’s character and destiny are reflected; and thus Jehovah’s Servant is the meek and patient martyr and the sinless sacrifice for his people. Such a view is in perfect harmony with the Christological reference of the prophecy in the sense stated above. It is one of the marvels of the Old Testament that the idea of vicarious suffering, which was but imperfectly illustrated in the history of Israel, is so clearly and profoundly apprehended by this prophet that only “the immeasurable step of the Incarnation” could reveal the perfect life in which his creation is realised.

ii. The opinion that the Servant is an individual is maintained in two very different forms: (1) that he was an actual historical person, a contemporary of the writer of the passages which relate to him; (2) that he is an ideal man whose appearance in the future is predicted.

(1) Of the first view, the most consistent exposition ever given is perhaps to be found in the Commentary of Duhm. He holds that the Servant of Jehovah was a religious teacher (a Thora-Lehrer), who lived in the early post-exilic period, before the date of Trito-Isaiah; and that the Servant-passages were composed by one who was his disciple. The description of his sufferings and death is to be taken literally; he was a man disfigured by leprosy, spurned and persecuted by his generation, one who, after being cut off by his disease, was laid in a dishonoured grave. Yet the impression made on his adherents by his character and teaching was such as to produce the expectation that he would rise from the dead and carry his work to a successful and glorious issue. The improbabilities of this theory are so manifest as almost to place it beyond possibility of belief, (a) It is hardly credible that an individual such as is supposed could have existed and exerted the profound spiritual influence attributed to him, without leaving some trace in the history of the time or in the subsequent literature. (b) The lofty and world-wide mission of the Servant, as well as his altogether unique relation to Jehovah, would be inconceivable from the O.T. standpoint if the subject were a private individual, (c) A still more serious difficulty is presented by the idea of a personal resurrection. Nothing urged by Duhm relieves the objections to supposing that such an expectation should have been entertained by a writer of this period (see on ch. Isaiah 65:20).

(2) The alternative form of the individual interpretation is that the passages in question are a Messianic prophecy in either the definite or the more general sense of the expression. It is represented by the Targum (on Isaiah 42:1 and Isaiah 52:13) where the reference is explicitly said to be to the Messiah. It has of course been the prevalent view in the Christian Church, which has always regarded the conception as a direct and conscious prophecy of Christ. The chief arguments against it are those stated in the Introduction (p. xxxv), and proceed on the assumption that a consistent usage must be maintained throughout the prophecy. But even if it were admitted that the Servant-passages represent an independent point of view, there are still some difficulties which cannot be ignored. In the first place it is surely remarkable that the language is never that of prediction. The Servant is invariably spoken of as having a present existence; what is foretold concerning him is not his appearance in a future age, but his exaltation, which is the result of his past labours and sufferings. The occurrence of the word “Israel” in ch. Isaiah 49:3 would also, if genuine, appear to be irreconcileable with this hypothesis. And even if these objections should be disposed of, it would still remain a question whether the rôle assigned to the Servant is not too great to be sustained by any individual, however exalted, according to Old Testament modes of thought (see Introd. p. xxxvi).

At all events, it will probably be felt that the choice lies between i. (4) and ii. (2). Either the ideal Israel or an ideal Israelite must be assumed as the subject in the prophet’s mind when he speaks of the Servant of Jehovah. Many of the best expositors (such as Delitzsch and G. A. Smith) think that neither suffices alone to set forth all that is meant by the expression. The idea is supposed to expand and contract in the mind of the writer, being sometimes so large as to include the whole of Israel, and at other times concentrating itself on the person of an ideal man whom the prophet expects to arise and fulfil the mission in which Israel failed. This is of course a correct explanation of how the ideal was fulfilled, but whether it is true to the prophet’s conception is another question. While admitting the truth of the collective interpretation it does not remove a single difficulty of the alternative view. Its only recommendation is that it does justice to those features of the picture which naturally suggest a human personality; but this advantage is gained at the expense of the principle that the subjects to which the name is applied must be presumed to be essentially identical.


On the Meaning of “Righteousness” in Ch. 40–66

The variety of senses which it is necessary to assign to the words “righteousness,” “righteous” &c., in different passages of this prophecy is apt to cause perplexity to the reader. It will not be supposed that the ambiguity arises from any laxity in the prophet’s use of words; it lies in the idea itself as it is unfolded in the general usage of the O.T. Hence a brief statement of the applications most frequently occurring may help the reader to judge for himself what meaning is intended to be conveyed in each particular passage.

The first thing to be noted is that “the ideas of right and wrong among the Hebrews are forensic ideas; that is, the Hebrew always thinks of the right and the wrong as if they were to be settled before a judge. Righteousness is to the Hebrew not so much a moral quality as a legal status. The word ‘righteous’ (çaddîq) means simply ‘in the right,’ and the word ‘wicked’ (râshâ‘) means ‘in the wrong’ ” (W. R. Smith, Prophets of Israel2, pp. 71 f.). Comp. Exodus 9:27 : “Jehovah is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong”; Genesis 38:26 : “she is in the right as against me,” &c. It is not asserted that this was the primary idea of the root; and there may be a few instances in the O.T. which point back to some simpler conception in which there was no reference to judicial procedure. But these instances are quite exceptional, if they exist at all; and the forensic aspect of the notion so nearly covers the whole field of O.T. usage that attention may here be confined to the important developments to which it gives rise.

In this forensic use of the group of words expressing the idea of righteousness three distinct applications are included:—

(a) Righteousness is the quality expected and required in the judge (or the king in his judicial capacity). His proper function is to “declare in the right” (hiçdîq) him who is in the right (çaddîq) and to condemn him who is in the wrong (râshâ‘); in the discharge of this duty he manifests the virtue of righteousness (çédeq). E.g. Deuteronomy 16:18 : “they (the judges) shall judge righteous judgement (mishpaṭ çédeq)”; Isaiah 1:16 : “judge righteousness (çédeq).” Cf. 2 Samuel 15:4; Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 5, Isaiah 16:5 &c.

(b) The righteousness of the private citizen is such a course of conduct as will stand the scrutiny of an impartial judge. Originally, perhaps, the word was used of being in the right as against another person in a particular case; as in Genesis 38:26; 1 Samuel 24:17; Proverbs 18:17 (“He that pleadeth his cause first is in the right, but &c.”); Deuteronomy 25:1 &c.; or being innocent of a particular charge (2 Kings 10:9). But by a natural extension of meaning it came to denote right moral conduct in general, especially when the implied reference is to the judgement of God (Job 4:17; Ezekiel 18:5; Psalm 15:2; Proverbs 16:8 &c.).

(c) Righteousness means further the legal status which results from a judicial sentence in one’s favour. This sense is so far distinct from (b) that the Hebrews could speak of “removing the righteousness of the righteous from him” (Isaiah 5:23), i.e. depriving the man who is really in the right of the righteous standing which a just decision would have secured to him. Cf. Ezekiel 18:20 (“the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him”) &c.

The social righteousness so much insisted on by the prophets is the ideal state of things in which the three aspects of the notion, just enumerated, are comprehended in a higher unity. It appears to be conceived as an attribute of the community rather than of individuals; its chief element is a sound administration of justice (a), maintaining a perfect correspondence between real (b), and legal (c), right. This is the case, e.g. in Isaiah 1:21, where Jerusalem is described as a “city in which righteousness used to dwell,” as is clear from the contrast in v. 23. So also in Amos 5:7; Amos 5:24 (cf. v. 15 “set up judgement in the gate” where the word used is mishpaṭ), Isaiah 6:12; Isaiah 5:7; Isaiah 32:16 f. &c. The same conception is found in ch. Isaiah 59:4; Isaiah 59:14, where righteousness and judgement are personified as the qualities that ought to preside over judicial procedure (see under Isaiah 2:1, below).

Now these forensic analogies form the basis of the religious use of the terms which is most characteristic of the second part of the book of Isaiah. The subjects of which righteousness is most frequently predicated are Jehovah on the one hand and Israel on the other. The two ideas are correlative and either may be defined in terms of the other. Jehovah’s righteousness is the quality exhibited in the vindication of Israel’s right, and again the right of Israel depends upon its relation to the righteousness of Jehovah. These definitions would not be quite exhaustive, but in a great number of instances it may be said that the righteousness of Israel and that of Jehovah are the two sides of one idea, both resting on the truth that the cause of Israel and the cause of Jehovah are one.

i. The righteousness of God may be described as that attribute on which Israel can rely for the vindication of its right, although it is not easy to define the attribute. In some cases it is sufficient to think of it as the attribute belonging to Jehovah as the Judge of all the earth, in virtue of which He punishes wrong wherever it is perpetrated (see ch. Isaiah 51:5 “mine arms shall judge the peoples”). But it is manifest that this conception is not wide enough to include all the forms in which the idea occurs. There are many passages which shew clearly that righteousness is an absolute quality of the divine character, revealing itself in ways that are independent of Jehovah’s judicial action, or His special relation to Israel. The word in fact appears to embrace all that constitutes trustworthiness in personal relations,—truthfulness in speech, steadfastness of purpose, consistency of principle and method, &c. These essential qualities of Godhead, however, receive a specific determination through Jehovah’s covenant with Israel, and hence righteousness may sometimes be equivalent to fidelity to the terms of the covenant. In other cases the trustworthiness ascribed to Jehovah is His rectitude as the Supreme Judge of men and nations. And finally the divine attribute of righteousness is conceived as embodied in the act of deliverance by which Israel’s right is vindicated, and in the state of salvation which ensues.

The following passages will illustrate the different aspects of the idea of righteousness as predicated of Jehovah. (1) Truthfulness or straightforwardness of speech is the idea chiefly emphasised in ch. Isaiah 45:19 : “I am Jehovah, who speak righteousness, announce rightness”; perhaps also in v. 21: “a righteous and saving God.” (In v. 23 the sense may rather be constancy of purpose;—see below.) Comp. also Isaiah 63:1. The meaning is slightly varied in Isaiah 41:26 (“that we may say, ‘He is right’ ”), and Isaiah 43:9 (“that they may be in the right”);—both referring to the heathen deities directly, but indirectly to Jehovah. In these cases righteousness denotes correctness of prediction,—correspondence of the announcement with the fact. These closely related uses of the word are very rare in Hebrew, but common in Arabic where “ṣidq is by implication the agreeing of what is said with what is conceived in the mind, and with the thing told of, together” (Lane’s Lexicon). (2) Steadfastness and consistency of purpose is expressed in Isaiah 41:10 (“I uphold thee with my right hand of righteousness), Isaiah 42:6 (“called thee in righteousness”), Isaiah 45:13 (“I have raised him [Cyrus] up in righteousness”). In the first two passages righteousness no doubt includes Jehovah’s fidelity to His covenant with Israel; although this fidelity is not to be conceived as an obligation which He owes to Israel, but as the expression of His own essential character. In the same sense the word is probably to be understood in Isaiah 42:21 (“it pleased Jehovah for His righteousness’ sake to magnify revelation” &c.); the motive for the abundance of His revelation being His fixed purpose to make of Israel a people for Himself. (3) Judicial righteousness appears from the context to be the idea most prominent in Isaiah 50:8 (“He that justifieth me”), and Isaiah 59:16 (“His righteousness upheld Him”). (4) The places where righteousness, as a divine attribute, occurs in parallelism with “salvation” are ch. Isaiah 46:13, Isaiah 51:5-6; Isaiah 51:8, Isaiah 56:1 b. Although the two ideas are practically identical the words are not strictly synonyms. Salvation is the outward act of deliverance and the state of things ushered in by it, while righteousness is the divine quality which is illustrated and embodied in the act. But the divine righteousness which thus assumes a concrete external form ceases to be a mere attribute of Jehovah; it becomes an objective fact, and hence, as we shall see, it may be spoken of indifferently as the manifestation of the righteousness of God or as the manifestation of the righteous standing which belongs to Israel.

ii. The righteousness of Israel is also a many-sided conception, combining elements which can only be elucidated from the peculiar religious situation caused by the Exile. First of all there was in the mind of the people the consciousness of being in the right as against the nations that oppressed them. Whatever might be the explanation of Israel’s calamities, the sense of having suffered wrong and injustice at the hands of heathen conquerors could not be suppressed; and this fact constituted a claim on the righteousness of God for the vindication of Israel’s right. The feeling is sometimes expressed by earlier prophets, especially by Habakkuk, who applies the epithets çaddîq and râshâ‘ to Israel and the Chaldæans respectively (Habakkuk 1:4; Habakkuk 1:13). But along with this there went a profound conviction, produced by the teaching of prophecy, and enforced by the lesson of the Captivity, of being in the wrong before God. “History, to Israel, was God’s supreme tribunal … But when the decision of history went against the nation, when they were threatened with expulsion from their land and with extinction as a people, that just meant that the Supreme Judge of men was giving His sentence against them. Israel had broken the terms of the Covenant. They had lost their right; they were no longer righteous” (G. A. Smith, Exposition, Vol. ii, p. 218). Thus “Israel’s unrighteousness is her state of discredit and disgrace under the hands of God; her righteousness, which she hopes for, is her restoral to her station and destiny as the elect people” (ibid. pp. 219 f.).

Now both these points of view are represented in this prophecy. The first appears in ch. Isaiah 40:27, where Israel complains that “my right (mishpâṭ) is passed over from my God” (comp. also Isaiah 49:4, Isaiah 52:4). The second is most clearly expressed in the ironical challenge of Isaiah 43:26 (“declare thou that thou mayest be pronounced in the right”), and is involved in the frequent confessions of national guilt which occur in the prophecy. In each case righteousness is a matter of legal standing, and it is not easy at first sight to see how the sense of demerit before God is consistent with the consciousness of a right whose vindication is hoped for from Jehovah. The reconciliation must be found in the larger view of the divine righteousness which includes Jehovah’s steadfast adherence to the purpose He had in His choice of Israel. That purpose is exhibited in the figure of the ideal Servant of Jehovah, who is perfectly righteous (ch. Isaiah 53:11) and who by his unmerited sufferings and death procures forgiveness and a righteous relation to God for the whole nation. But besides denoting a legal status to be vindicated by Jehovah’s judicial interposition, righteousness is also used ethically of the character and life which is right in the sight of God.

We may now attempt to classify the principal passages where righteousness is spoken of in connexion with Israel, although it must be premised that the precise shade of meaning conveyed is frequently indeterminate and the classification therefore somewhat uncertain. (1) The passages where the words are used of civic righteousness in the sense of the older prophets have already been referred to; viz., ch. Isaiah 59:4; Isaiah 59:14. Other places where the same sense may possibly be intended, or at least included, are Isaiah 45:8, Isaiah 54:14, Isaiah 56:1 a, Isaiah 59:9, Isaiah 60:17. (2) The ethical idea of righteousness, as equivalent to the possession of a right moral and religious character, appears to be implied in ch. Isaiah 53:11, Isaiah 56:1 a, Isaiah 58:2. In these instances the subject is either Israel or the Servant of the Lord; of individual Israelites the word is used in Isaiah 51:1; Isaiah 51:7, Isaiah 57:1, Isaiah 60:21, Isaiah 64:5-6; in Isaiah 48:1 the word seems to have the narrower meaning of truthfulness. (3) On the other hand, the forensic idea (righteousness as a religious standing) predominates in Isaiah 46:12, Isaiah 54:17, Isaiah 57:12. (4) Lastly, the forensic idea passes over into that of righteousness manifested in external prosperity and glory. This is the case in ch. Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 62:1, where the parallel expression is “salvation” (cf. Isaiah 45:8); in Isaiah 58:8, Isaiah 62:2 the parallel is “glory,” in Isaiah 48:18, Isaiah 60:17, “peace”; cf. Isaiah 45:24-25. In these passages “righteousness” might be rendered “justification”; it denotes the blessings conferred on Israel in token that its right is acknowledged and declared by God (see under Isaiah 1:4, above). To this class may be assigned two other passages, where righteousness is, as it were, hypostatised and spoken of as a state of things created on earth by Jehovah; viz., Isaiah 45:8 (in parallelism with “salvation”) and Isaiah 61:11 (“righteousness and praise”).

A somewhat peculiar use of the word is found in ch. Isaiah 41:2, where (if the translation given in the notes be correct) it is said of Cyrus that “righteousness attends him at every step.” Here righteousness must be equivalent to “success” or “victory”; the idea being that the remarkable successes of Cyrus on the battle-field were decisions by the Almighty in his favour and the demonstration to all the world that his was the right cause. A sense closely approaching to “victory” is implied in Isaiah 45:24 (“righteousnesses and strength”; cf. v. 25: “all the seed of Israel shall have right, and shall triumph”).

NOTE III (p. lx)

Some Critical Theories of the Composition of Ch. 40–66

In order to shew how complicated the problem of the literary structure of this prophecy has been felt to be, the views of some recent scholars may be briefly noticed. Ewald and Dillmann are the chief representatives of the school which recognizes the unity of the second Isaiah while admitting that the author has made use of earlier written material. Ewald holds that ch. Isaiah 40:1-2, Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, Isaiah 56:9 to Isaiah 57:11, are passages borrowed from pre-exilic prophets, while Isaiah 58:1 to Isaiah 59:20 is taken from an exilic predecessor of the author. The first edition of the prophecies contained two books, ch. 40–48, 49–60; ch. Isaiah 61:1 to Isaiah 63:6 and Isa. 63:7–66:25 are two additions made by the author himself.—Dillmann’s position is somewhat similar. The influence of earlier prophets can be traced more or less clearly in the language of Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, Isaiah 56:9 to Isaiah 57:13, Isaiah 58, 59; and in other passages the possibility of later alterations is conceded. The original prophecy consisted of two books, 40–48 and 49–62; and there are two appendices, Isaiah 63:1-6 and Isa 63:7–66:25. The whole, however, is held to have been completed before the end of the Exile.—Cheyne, who had previously convinced himself of the post-exilic origin of certain portions of the prophecy (Isa 56:1–8, 58, 59, 63–66), now accepts the conclusions of Duhm, with some important modifications. While Duhm assigns the whole of ch. 56–66 to a single author (to whom he gives the name of Trito-Isaiah) Cheyne carries the analysis further, and finds evidence that several hands have been engaged in the compilation of these discourses. The collection as a whole, however, is still regarded as a product of the age of Ezra and Nehemiah, the only important exception being Isaiah 63:7 to Isaiah 64:12, which is brought down to the troubled period under Artaxerxes Ochus (see Vol. i. p. 204).—Kuenen (1889, Onderzoek, § 49) also divided the prophecy into two parts, one exilic and the other post-exilic. But to the exilic writer he assigned only ch. 40–49, Isaiah 52:1-12, and possibly Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12. All the rest he considered to be the work of various prophets living in Palestine after the Return.—Cornill (1896, Einleitung3 pp. 157–161) occupies a position intermediate between those of Dillmann and Kuenen. He holds that the two books, ch. 40–48, 49–62 were both written by the second Isaiah, the former in Babylonia before the close of the Exile, the latter in Palestine after the Restoration. The remaining chapters (63–66) cannot, he thinks, be ascribed at least in their present form to the author of 40–62—Kosters (Theol. Tijdschrift, 1896, pp. 577–623) agrees with Cheyne as to the composition of ch. 56–66; but differs from him with regard to 49–55, which (following Kuenen) he considers to be another collection of prophecies delivered in Palestine. He advocates a very complicated theory of the origin of the four “Servant-passages”; and his view is partly influenced by his theory of the history of the restoration period (on which cf. Davidson, The Exile &c. p. 115).—A somewhat peculiar view is adopted by Bredenkamp (1887), of which the distinctive feature is that ch. 40–66 contain a nucleus of genuine Isaianic passages, which have been amplified and published by a prophet of the Exile period. See further, Driver, Isaiah 2 p. 211, and Introduction6, pp. 244 ff.

Several of these theories suggest the enquiry how far the hypothesis of a post-exilic date for some of the chapters may be compatible with identity of authorship. If the writer of ch. 40–48 lived in Babylonia it is reasonable to suppose that he returned to Palestine with Zerubbabel and Joshua in 536; and if he was a very young man at the beginning of his work, his active career might nearly extend over the first half-century after the Restoration. Can the indications of post-exilic origin be satisfactorily explained on the assumption that the Palestinian discourses were written within that period and by the original author himself? The suggestion is not to be altogether disregarded, but the balance of probability would seem to be against it. Several of the passages appear to presuppose a longer experience of life in Palestine than can be reasonably attributed to a contemporary of Zerubbabel; the division of parties suits the age of Malachi better than that of Haggai and Zechariah; and the corruption of the ruling classes is not likely to have proceeded so far in the years immediately following the removal of Zerubbabel and Joshua. On the whole, it may be said that if the arguments for post-exilic authorship be valid at all, they point to the conclusion that the last division of the prophecy was written on the eve of the great reformation under Nehemiah (444).

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