A Prophet of God Brings Light for Mankind
1, 2. What present-day circumstances cause great anxiety for many?
WE LIVE in an age when virtually anything seems within man’s reach. Space travel, computer technology, genetic engineering, and other scientific innovations have opened up new possibilities to the human race, bringing the hope of a better life—perhaps even a longer one.
2 Have such advances enabled you to remove the locks from your doors? Have they eliminated the threat of war? Have they cured disease or removed the sorrow of losing a loved one in death? Hardly! Human progress, remarkable as it may be, is limited. “We have figured out how to travel to the moon, make ever more powerful silicon chips, and transplant human genes,” states a report by Worldwatch Institute. “But we have not yet been able to provide clean water to a billion people, slow the loss of thousands of species, or meet our energy needs without destabilizing the atmosphere.” Understandably, many look to the future with anxiety, uncertain about where to turn for comfort and hope.
3. What situation existed in Judah during the eighth century B.C.E.?
3 The situation we face today is similar to that of God’s people during the eighth century B.C.E. At that time, God commissioned his servant Isaiah to bring a message of comfort to the inhabitants of Judah, and comfort was just what they needed. Turbulent events rocked the nation. The cruel Assyrian Empire would soon menace the land, filling many with dread. Where could God’s people turn for salvation? The name of Jehovah was on their lips, but they preferred to put their trust in men.—2 Kings 16:7; 18:21.
Light Shining in the Darkness
4. What twofold message was Isaiah commissioned to proclaim?
4 As a result of Judah’s rebellious course, Jerusalem was to be destroyed, and the inhabitants of Judah were to be taken captive to Babylon. Yes, dark times were coming. Jehovah commissioned his prophet Isaiah to foretell this ominous period, but He also instructed him to proclaim good news. After 70 years of exile, the Jews would be liberated from Babylon! A joyful remnant would return to Zion and have the privilege of restoring true worship there. With this happy message, Jehovah through his prophet caused light to shine in the darkness.
5. Why did Jehovah reveal his purposes so far in advance?
5 Judah was not desolated until more than a century after Isaiah recorded his prophecies. Why, then, did Jehovah reveal his purposes so far in advance? Would not those who had personally heard Isaiah’s proclamations be long dead by the time the prophecies were fulfilled? That is true. Still, thanks to Jehovah’s revelations to Isaiah, those living at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C.E. would have a written record of Isaiah’s prophetic messages. This would provide irrefutable proof that Jehovah is “the One telling from the beginning the finale, and from long ago the things that have not been done.”—Isaiah 46:10; 55:10, 11.
6. What are some ways in which Jehovah is superior to all human forecasters?
6 Only Jehovah can rightfully make such a claim. A human might be able to predict the near future based on his understanding of the political or social climate of the day. But only Jehovah can foresee with absolute certainty what will happen at any point in time, even in the distant future. He can also empower his servants to foretell events long before they occur. The Bible states: “The Sovereign Lord Jehovah will not do a thing unless he has revealed his confidential matter to his servants the prophets.”—Amos 3:7.
How Many “Isaiahs”?
7. How have many scholars questioned the writership of Isaiah, and why?
7 The issue of prophecy is one thing that has caused many scholars to question the writership of Isaiah. These critics insist that the latter portion of the book must have been written by someone who lived in the sixth century B.C.E., either during or after the Babylonian exile. According to them, the prophecies of Judah’s desolation were written after their fulfillment and hence were not really predictions at all. These critics also note that after Isa chapter 40, the book of Isaiah speaks as if Babylon were the prevailing power and the Israelites were in captivity there. So they reason that whoever wrote the latter portion of Isaiah must have done so during that era—during the sixth century B.C.E. Is there a solid basis for such reasoning? Absolutely not!
8. When did skepticism regarding the writership of Isaiah begin, and how did it spread?
8 It was not until the 12th century C.E. that the writership of Isaiah was called into question. This was by Jewish commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra. “In his commentary on Isaiah,” says the Encyclopaedia Judaica, “[Abraham Ibn Ezra] states that the second half, from Isa chapter 40, was the work of a prophet who lived during the Babylonian Exile and the early period of the Return to Zion.” During the 18th and 19th centuries, Ibn Ezra’s views were adopted by a number of scholars, including Johann Christoph Doederlein, a German theologian who published his exegetical work on Isaiah in 1775, with a second edition in 1789. The New Century Bible Commentary notes: “All but the most conservative scholars now accept the hypothesis put forward by Doederlein . . . that the prophecies contained in chapters 40-66 of the book of Isaiah are not the words of the eighth-century prophet Isaiah but come from a later time.”
9. (a) What dissecting of the book of Isaiah has taken place? (b) How does one Bible commentator summarize the controversy surrounding Isaiah’s writership?
9 However, questions about the writership of the book of Isaiah did not stop there. The theory regarding a second Isaiah—or Deutero-Isaiah—gave birth to the notion that a third writer may have been involved.* Then the book of Isaiah was dissected further, so that one scholar ascribes Isa chapters 15 and 16 to an unknown prophet, while another questions the writership of Isa chapters 23 to 27. Still another says that Isaiah could not have penned the words found in Isa chapters 34 and 35. Why? Because the material closely resembles that found in Isa chapters 40 to 66, which had already been credited to someone other than the eighth-century Isaiah! Bible commentator Charles C. Torrey succinctly summarizes the result of this reasoning process. “The once great ‘Prophet of the Exile,’” he says, “has dwindled to a very small figure, and is all but buried in a mass of jumbled fragments.” However, not all scholars agree with such dissecting of the book of Isaiah.
Evidence of One Writer
10. Give one example of how consistency of expression provides evidence of one writer for the book of Isaiah.
10 There is strong reason to maintain that the book of Isaiah is the work of just one writer. One line of evidence pertains to consistency of expression. For example, the phrase “the Holy One of Israel” is found 12 times in Isaiah chapters 1 to 39 and 13 times in Isaiah chapters 40 to 66, yet this description of Jehovah appears only 6 times in the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. The repeated use of this otherwise infrequently used expression argues for unity of writership of Isaiah.
11 There are other similarities between Isaiah chapters 1 to 39 and Isa chapters 40 to 66. Both portions contain frequent usage of the same distinctive figures of speech, such as a woman with birth pains and a “way” or a “highway.”* There is also repeated reference to “Zion,” a term that is used 29 times in Isa chapters 1 to 39 and 18 times in Isa chapters 40 to 66. In fact, Zion is referred to more in Isaiah than in any other Bible book! Such evidences, notes The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “stamp the book with an individuality which it is difficult to account for” if the book was written by two, three, or more writers.
12, 13. How do the Christian Greek Scriptures indicate that the book of Isaiah was the work of one writer?
12 The strongest evidence that the book of Isaiah had just one writer is found in the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures. These clearly indicate that first-century Christians believed that the book of Isaiah was the work of one writer. Luke, for example, tells of an Ethiopian official who was reading material that is now found in Isaiah chapter 53, the very portion that modern-day critics ascribe to Deutero-Isaiah. Luke, however, says that the Ethiopian was “reading aloud the prophet Isaiah.”—Acts 8:26-28.
13 Next consider the Gospel writer Matthew, who explains how the ministry of John the Baptizer fulfilled the prophetic words that we now find at Isaiah 40:3. To whom does Matthew attribute the prophecy? An unknown Deutero-Isaiah? No, he identifies the writer simply as “Isaiah the prophet.”* (Matthew 3:1-3) On another occasion, Jesus read from a scroll the words we now find at Isaiah 61:1, 2. In relating the account, Luke states: “The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed him.” (Luke 4:17) In his letter to the Romans, Paul refers to both the earlier and the later portions of Isaiah, yet never does he even hint that the writer was anyone other than the same person, Isaiah. (Romans 10:16, 20; 15:12) Clearly, first-century Christians did not believe that the book of Isaiah was the work of two, three, or more penmen.
14. How do the Dead Sea Scrolls shed light on the matter of Isaiah’s writership?
14 Consider, too, the testimony of the Dead Sea Scrolls—ancient documents, many of which date from before the time of Jesus. One manuscript of Isaiah, known as the Isaiah Scroll, dates from the second century B.C.E., and it refutes critics’ claims that a Deutero-Isaiah took over the writing at Isa chapter 40. How so? In this ancient document, what we now know as Isa chapter 40 begins on the last line of a column, the opening sentence being completed in the next column. The copyist was clearly unaware of any supposed change in writer or division in the book at that point.
15. What does first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus have to say about Isaiah’s prophecies concerning Cyrus?
15 Finally, consider the testimony of first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. He not only indicates that the prophecies in Isaiah pertaining to Cyrus were written in the eighth century B.C.E. but also says that Cyrus was aware of these prophecies. “These things Cyrus knew,” Josephus writes, “from reading the book of prophecy which Isaiah had left behind two hundred and ten years earlier.” According to Josephus, knowledge of these prophecies may even have contributed to Cyrus’ willingness to send the Jews back to their homeland, for Josephus writes that Cyrus was “seized by a strong desire and ambition to do what had been written.”—Jewish Antiquities, Book XI, chapter 1, paragraph 2.
16. What can be said about the critics’ assertion that Babylon is described in the latter portion of Isaiah as the prevailing power?
16 As mentioned earlier, many critics point out that from Isaiah chapter 40 onward, Babylon is described as the prevailing power, and the Israelites are spoken of as already being in exile. Would this not indicate that the writer lived during the sixth century B.C.E.? Not necessarily. The fact is that even before chapter 40 of Isaiah, Babylon is sometimes described as the prevailing world power. For example, at Isaiah 13:19, Babylon is called “the decoration of kingdoms” or, as Today’s English Version renders it, “the most beautiful kingdom of all.” These words are clearly prophetic, since Babylon did not become a world power until more than a century later. One critic “solves” this so-called problem by simply dismissing Isaiah 13 as being the work of another writer! Really, though, speaking of future events as though they have already occurred is quite common in Bible prophecy. This literary device effectively underscores the certainty of the fulfillment of a prophecy. (Revelation 21:5, 6) Indeed, only the God of true prophecy can make the statement: “New things I am telling out. Before they begin to spring up, I cause you people to hear them.”—Isaiah 42:9.
A Book of Reliable Prophecy
17. How can the change of style from Isaiah chapter 40 onward be explained?
17 To what conclusion, then, does the evidence point? That the book of Isaiah is the work of one inspired writer. This entire book has been passed down through the centuries as a single work, not two or more. True, some may say that the style of Isaiah’s book changes somewhat from Isa chapter 40 onward. Remember, though, that Isaiah served as God’s prophet for no less than 46 years. During that time it is to be expected that the content of his message, and with it his way of expressing his message, would change. Indeed, Isaiah’s commission from God was not simply to deliver severe warnings of judgment. He was also to convey Jehovah’s words: “Comfort, comfort my people.” (Isaiah 40:1) God’s covenant people would truly be comforted by his promise that, after 70 years of exile, the Jews would be repatriated to their homeland.
18. What is a theme in the book of Isaiah that will be discussed in this publication?
18 The release of the Jews from Babylonian captivity is the theme of many of the chapters of Isaiah discussed in this book.* A number of these prophecies have a modern-day fulfillment, as we will see. In addition, we find in the book of Isaiah thrilling prophecies that were fulfilled in the life—and death—of God’s only-begotten Son. Certainly, a study of the vital prophecies contained in the book of Isaiah will benefit God’s servants and others earth wide. These prophecies are, indeed, light for all mankind.
The hypothetical third writer, supposedly responsible for Isa chapters 56 to 66, is referred to by scholars as Trito-Isaiah.
The first 40 chapters of Isaiah are discussed in Isaiah’s Prophecy—Light for All Mankind I, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Evidence From Diachronic Analysis
Diachronic studies—which trace the subtle changes that take place in language over many years—provide further evidence that the book of Isaiah is the work of a single writer. If part of Isaiah were written in the eighth century B.C.E. and another portion 200 years later, there should be differences in the kind of Hebrew used in each section. But according to a study published in the Westminster Theological Journal, “the evidence from diachronic analysis overwhelmingly supports a pre-exilic date for Isaiah 40-66.” The author of the study concludes: “If critical scholars continue to insist that Isaiah should be dated in the exilic or post-exilic period, they must do so in the face of contrary evidence from diachronic analysis.”
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Portion of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah. The end of Isa chapter 39 is indicated with an arrow
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Some 200 years in advance, Isaiah foretells liberation for the Jews