The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah…
God raises up the man for the age, giving him gifts for the particular work which the age may demand. History is not a mere faithful record of things done, but a wise and sympathetic estimate of men doing. A man has more power on us than a truth. A man is grander than any doctrine or any book. Christianity, as a mere system, is a powerless thing; it never quickened anybody from his death of trespasses and sins. The personal Christ is our life. In the sphere of philanthropy we are interested in the doings of Howard and Wilberforce and Nightingale; in politics we trace the influence of Pitt and Burke and Cobden; and in the field of patriotism you kindle into enthusiasm all America when you speak of Washington and Lincoln, and all Scotland when you speak of John Knox. But it is not an easy thing for us to reproduce the men of a long bygone history. The men of one period must not be judged by the ideas and manners and social sentiments of another period; and yet it makes a surpassing demand on us if we have to create, with our imaginations, times wholly differing from our own. If we could be set down amidst the ruins of the buried Pompeii, and see around us the rooms, the furniture, the pictures, the ornaments, and the utensils, we think that, with their help, it would be easy to reproduce the life of old Rome; we could fill banqueting-hall, and theatre, and baths, and market-place with the men and women of that age. With old Israel we can have no such helps; we are dependent on the historical and imaginative faculties.
I. THE PROPHET HIMSELF. "The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amotz." Little is known of his private life, and nothing of his personal appearance. He resided in Jerusalem; he was married, and his wife is spoken of as a prophetess. They had two sons; both were named with prophetic names, the two taken together embodying the substance of Isaiah's message. The one was called "Maher-shalal-hash-baz" - "He hasteth to the prey" - indicating the swift desolating forces that were coming on the people of Judaea; the other was called "Shear-Jashub" - a "remnant shall return" - indicating the mercy of God towards some, the mercy with which so much of the Book of Isaiah deals. It appears that the prophet wore a garment of haircloth or sackcloth, the ordinary symbol of repentance among Eastern nations; and so his very appearance reminded the people of his message. Isaiah prophesied for nearly fifty years. No record is left of his death, but Jewish traditions represent him as martyred in the reign of Manasseh - sawn asunder with a wooden saw. He was a prophet, not necessarily foretelling future events, but a directly inspired man; one who received communications from God which he was to address to the people. The prophet had three things to do:
(1) to awaken the nation to a sense of sin in disobeying and forsaking the Lord their God;
(2) to counteract the delusion that an external observance of rites and ceremonies is sufficient to satisfy God; and
(3) to oppose the delusions of those who imagined that their election as a nation, and their covenant with Jehovah, formed an absolute security against overwhelming national judgments.
II. THE TIMES IN WHICH THE PROPHET LIVED. They were times of national decline and decay. Isaiah saw four kings upon the throne of Judah. He saw the flickering of the candle ere it went out in the darkness. There was some appearance of prosperity; but Isaiah knew that it did but gloze over deep national corruption that called for national judgments. During the time of Isaiah the neighboring kingdom of the ten tribes did actually fall - the corruptions of idolatry and sensuality, in their case, running a swifter course; and the prophet holds up their case as a solemn warning to the people of Judah. The first six chapters of Isaiah have been referred to the reign of Uzziah, a king whose prosperity developed a strong self-will and masterfulness, which led him to attempt a sad act of sacrilege. Jotham was a pious king; but Ahaz plunged into all the idolatries of the surrounding nations, making molten images for Baal, and sacrificing his children by passing them through the burning hands of Moloch in the valley of Hinnom. The people were only too ready for this debasing change. But judgment quickly followed on the heels of iniquity. Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus attacked and injured the country, though they failed to take Jerusalem. Soon other enemies came - Syrians in front, Philistines behind. Ahaz sought help from Tiglath-Pileser, King of Assyria, who soon turned upon him, and Assyria became the gravest enemy of Israel.
III. THE WORK WHICH THE PROPHET HAD TO DO.
1. His first work was to make men understand that their sufferings were actual Divine judgments on their sins, and therefore calls, like thunder-peals, to awaken them to repentance. God will not leave men in their troubles to imagine that some evil chance has befallen them, that they are the victims of accident. By the mouth of some prophet he will assuredly vindicate the connection between sin and suffering.
2. But Isaiah had also to bring comfort to the people of God in the time of national calamity. Godly people are often bowed down by the pressure of surrounding evil, and in their despairing they sometimes say, "God hath forgotten to be gracious." God will never leave his faithful few to sink under discouragements.
3. Isaiah's work may be more precisely stated as this: he was to prepare the way for the spiritual kingdom of God, in the person of Messiah the crucified yet glorified Redeemer. The old theocracy was breaking up, and God's rule in the world might be lost. Isaiah was to say that it was only passing into a spiritual theocracy, giving place to the spiritual and eternal reign of God in souls. In Isaiah messages of severity and of mercy are most graciously blended. The following passage precisely represents his mission: "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off." - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.