An Ancient Prophet With a Modern Message
1, 2. (a) What sad state of affairs do we see in the world today? (b) How did one U.S. senator express his concern about the deterioration of society?
WHO today does not yearn for relief from the problems that face mankind? Yet, how often our longings go unfulfilled! We dream of peace, but we are plagued by war. We cherish law and order, but we cannot stem the rising tide of robbery, rape, and murder. We want to trust our neighbor, but we have to lock our doors for protection. We love our children and try to instill wholesome values in them, but all too often we watch helplessly as they succumb to the unwholesome influence of their peers.
2 We might well agree with Job, who stated that man’s short life is “glutted with agitation.” (Job 14:1) This seems especially so today, for society is deteriorating on a scale never before seen. One U.S. senator observed: “The Cold War is now over, but in a tragic sense, the world has now been made safer for ethnic, tribal, and religious vengeance and savagery. . . . We have watered down our moral standards to the point where many of our youth are confused, discouraged and in deep trouble. We are reaping the harvest of parental neglect, divorce, child abuse, teen pregnancy, school dropouts, illegal drugs, and streets full of violence. It’s as if our house, having survived the great earthquake we call the Cold War, is now being eaten away by termites.”
3. What Bible book especially offers hope for the future?
3 However, we are not left without hope. Some 2,700 years ago, God inspired a man of the Middle East to utter a series of prophecies that have special meaning for our day. These messages are recorded in the Bible book bearing that prophet’s name—Isaiah. Who was Isaiah, and why can we say that his prophecy, recorded almost three millenniums ago, provides light for all mankind today?
A Righteous Man in Turbulent Times
4. Who was Isaiah, and when did he serve as Jehovah’s prophet?
4 In the first verse of his book, Isaiah introduces himself as “the son of Amoz,”* and he tells us that he served as God’s prophet “in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” (Isaiah 1:1) This would mean that Isaiah continued as God’s prophet to the nation of Judah for no less than 46 years, likely beginning at the end of Uzziah’s reign—about the year 778 B.C.E.
5, 6. What must have been true regarding Isaiah’s family life, and why?
5 Compared with what we know about some other prophets, we know little about the personal life of Isaiah. We do know that he was a married man and that he referred to his wife as “the prophetess.” (Isaiah 8:3) According to McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, this designation indicates that Isaiah’s married life “was not only consistent with his vocation, but that it was intimately interwoven with it.” It may well be that, similar to some other godly women of ancient Israel, Isaiah’s wife had her own prophetic assignment.—Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14.
6 Isaiah and his wife had at least two sons, each given a name with prophetic significance. The firstborn, Shear-jashub, accompanied Isaiah when he delivered God’s messages to wicked King Ahaz. (Isaiah 7:3) It is evident that Isaiah and his wife made worship of God a family matter—a fine example for married couples today!
7. Describe conditions in Judah in Isaiah’s day.
7 Isaiah and his family lived during a turbulent period in Judah’s history. Political unrest was common, bribery tainted the courts, and hypocrisy tore the religious fabric of society. The hilltops were covered with altars to false gods. Even some of the kings promoted pagan worship. Ahaz, for instance, not only tolerated idolatry among his subjects but personally engaged in it, making his own offspring “pass through the fire” in a ritual sacrifice to the Canaanite god Molech.* (2 Kings 16:3, 4; 2 Chronicles 28:3, 4) And all of this took place among a people who were in a covenant relationship with Jehovah!—Exodus 19:5-8.
8. (a) What example did Kings Uzziah and Jotham set, and did the people follow their lead? (b) How did Isaiah show boldness in the midst of a rebellious people?
8 Commendably, some of Isaiah’s contemporaries—including a few rulers—tried to promote true worship. Among them was King Uzziah, who did “what was upright in Jehovah’s eyes.” Still, during his reign the people were “sacrificing and making sacrificial smoke on the high places.” (2 Kings 15:3, 4) King Jotham too “kept doing what was right in Jehovah’s eyes.” However, “the people were yet acting ruinously.” (2 Chronicles 27:2) Yes, throughout much of Isaiah’s prophetic ministry, the kingdom of Judah was in a deplorable spiritual and moral state. By and large, the people ignored any positive influence that came from their kings. Understandably, delivering God’s messages to this stubborn people would not be an easy assignment. Nevertheless, when Jehovah posed the question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah did not hesitate. He exclaimed: “Here I am! Send me.”—Isaiah 6:8.
A Message of Salvation
9. What is the meaning of Isaiah’s name, and how does this relate to the theme of his book?
9 Isaiah’s name means “Salvation of Jehovah,” and this could well be called the theme of his message. True, some of Isaiah’s prophecies are of judgment. Still, the theme of salvation comes through loud and clear. Repeatedly, Isaiah related how in due time Jehovah would release the Israelites from captivity in Babylon, allowing a remnant to return to Zion and bring the land back to its former splendor. No doubt the privilege of speaking and writing prophecies concerning the restoration of his beloved Jerusalem gave Isaiah the greatest joy!
10, 11. (a) Why is the book of Isaiah of interest to us today? (b) How does the book of Isaiah direct attention to the Messiah?
10 But what do these messages of judgment and salvation have to do with us? Happily, Isaiah does not prophesy simply for the benefit of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah. On the contrary, his messages have special significance for our day. Isaiah paints a glorious picture of how God’s Kingdom will soon bring grand blessings to our earth. In this regard, a large portion of Isaiah’s writings focuses on the foretold Messiah, who would rule as King of God’s Kingdom. (Daniel 9:25; John 12:41) Surely it is no coincidence that the names Jesus and Isaiah express virtually the same thought, the name Jesus meaning “Jehovah Is Salvation.”
11 Of course, Jesus was not born until some seven centuries after Isaiah’s day. Yet, the Messianic prophecies contained in the book of Isaiah are so detailed and so accurate that they read like an eyewitness account of Jesus’ life on earth. One source noted that in view of this, the book of Isaiah is sometimes called the “Fifth Gospel.” Hence, it is hardly surprising that Isaiah was the Bible book most frequently quoted by Jesus and his apostles in order to make a clear identification of the Messiah.
12. Why do we eagerly embark on a study of the book of Isaiah?
12 Isaiah paints a glorious word picture of “new heavens and a new earth” wherein “a king will reign for righteousness itself” and princes will rule for justice. (Isaiah 32:1, 2; 65:17, 18; 2 Peter 3:13) Thus the book of Isaiah points to the heartwarming hope of God’s Kingdom, under the Messiah Jesus Christ as enthroned King. What an encouragement for us to live each day in joyful expectation of “salvation by [Jehovah]”! (Isaiah 25:9; 40:28-31) Let us, then, eagerly examine the precious message in the book of Isaiah. As we do so, our confidence in God’s promises will be greatly strengthened. Also, we will be helped to grow in our conviction that Jehovah is indeed the God of our salvation.
Isaiah’s father, Amoz, is not to be confused with Amos who prophesied at the beginning of Uzziah’s reign and who wrote the Bible book bearing his name.
Some say that to “pass through the fire” may simply indicate a purification ceremony. It seems, though, that in this context the phrase refers to a literal sacrifice. There is no question that child sacrifice was practiced by Canaanites and apostate Israelites.—Deuteronomy 12:31; Psalm 106:37, 38.
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Who Was Isaiah?
MEANING OF NAME: “Salvation of Jehovah”
FAMILY: Married, with at least two sons
PLACE OF RESIDENCE: Jerusalem
YEARS OF SERVICE: No less than 46 years, from about 778 B.C.E. to sometime after 732 B.C.E.
CONTEMPORARY KINGS OF JUDAH: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah
CONTEMPORARY PROPHETS: Micah, Hosea, Oded
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Isaiah and his wife made worship of God a family matter