Structures and Features

Part 1

This lesson begins a three-part series outlining how Isaiah actually arranged the material in his book.
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So far we have noted that the prophet Isaiah lived in Jerusalem between the 8th and 7th century before Christ. He was a contemporary of several Kings and he prophesied during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. The main subject of his prophecies were warnings to the rulers both of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) concerning their conduct, faithfulness to God and various relationships with foreign powers. His prophecies included:

  1. Denouncing their alliances with pagan nations to secure military protection instead of trusting God for safety.
  2. Warning them of impending attacks and destruction.
  3. Denouncing surrounding nations for their worship of pagan gods and announcing the judgment of God on them.
  4. Prophesied the restoration of the southern kingdom after its defeat and exile.
  5. Articulated the form, method and the results of God's promised salvation in the future.
    1. Form - A Man
    2. Method - Vicarious atonement
    3. Results - Regeneration

These prophecies were not only given once but were repeated at different times throughout his book using various words and literary devices.

In this chapter, we will begin to examine the way that Isaiah wrote and how he put his book together. Understanding this will help us understand what, exactly, the prophet was communicating.

Structure of Book of Isaiah

Isaiah's prophecies and teachings are presented using five main topics. These consist of the following:

  1. The Messianic hope
  2. The Motif (pattern or concept) of the City (Jerusalem).
  3. The Holy One of Israel
  4. The faith response of the Jewish people throughout their history
  5. Special literary and structural features of Isaiah's writings.

The book of Isaiah would be a lot easier to understand and follow if the prophet had taken each of these topics/themes/devices and written a chapter or two about each one in successive order (roman numeral I, point A, subpoint b, etc.).

However, Isaiah wrote with the eastern mindset of a Jewish prophet and poet. His five topics/themes, therefore, are seen as five individual strands that are carefully and artfully braided together, each repeatedly overlapping the other to tell a single story.

If you are unfamiliar with the individual strands you cannot tell when and where one theme/topic ends and another begins nor can you understand the message as a whole. In other words, you understand some of the words, but can't follow the storyline to understand the message itself.

Knowing the themes and features of the writing helps the reader know who and what the prophet is talking about in different parts of his book. Let's examine the five strands.

The 5 Strands

1. The Messianic Hope

The Jews from the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) had been promised a Savior but until Isaiah, the form and the purpose of this "Messiah" had not yet been clearly defined. We have references to Him in the book of Job for example (Job 19:25-27) and in the Psalms (Psalms 110:1) but Isaiah is the prophet that most clearly defines Him along with the way He was to save His people.

Isaiah provides us with three portraits of the Messianic hope in this strand.

  1. The Messiah as a King - chapters 1-37
  2. The Messiah as a Servant - chapters 38-55
  3. The Messiah as an Anointed Conqueror - chapters 56-66

Although separate and distinct as portraits, all three share similar features indicating that they are all meant to be facets of a single Messianic personage. For example, let's say you name three animals - lion, bear and eagle. However, in describing each one you use words like fierce, powerful, cunning and carnivorous. All things that are true about each creature and serve to unify them rather than to distinguish them. Disparate animals described with attributes common to all.

So, in like fashion, in Isaiah's descriptions of the Messianic hope as (King, Servant, Conqueror) each one of these has the following similar traits:

A. Each is endowed with the Spirit and the Word of God.

"As for Me, this is My covenant with them," says the Lord: "My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring," says the Lord, "from now and forever."
- Isaiah 59:21

B. Each is imbued with righteousness as a natural state.

His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
- Isaiah 53:9

C. The King, Servant, Conqueror are each seen as descendants of David fulfilling promises made through him.

6For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
- Isaiah 9:6-7

D. Each brings the Messianic hope, in each of its forms, to both Jews and Gentiles.

1The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
3And many peoples will come and say,
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths."
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
- Isaiah 2:1-3

E. Each is presented from a dual nature (God/Man) perspective.

1. King - Born in David's line - 11:1

  • Man: The root from which David, himself, springs - 11:10
  • God: This King, however, will be called Mighty God - 9:6

2. Servant - Possess a human ancestry and appearance

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
- Isaiah 53:2

He also was the Lord Himself appearing with salvation - 52:10; 53:1.

3. Anointed Conqueror - The God/Man combination as Savior

15bNow the Lord saw,
And it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice.
16And He saw that there was no man,
And was astonished that there was no one to intercede;
Then His own arm brought salvation to Him,
And His righteousness upheld Him.
17He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing
And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle.
18According to their deeds, so He will repay,
Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies;
To the coastlands He will make recompense.
19So they will fear the name of the Lord from the west
And His glory from the rising of the sun,
For He will come like a rushing stream
Which the wind of the Lord drives.
20"A Redeemer will come to Zion,
And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob," declares the Lord.
- Isaiah 59:15b-20

And so, in this first strand (Messianic hope) Isaiah (through the power of the Spirit) creates three portraits of the coming Messiah with each portrait providing particular information about this person.

  1. His royal position of authority as (king)
  2. His human character as a man with a mission (servant)
  3. His ultimate victory over death as the anointed (conqueror)

The unified vision that the prophet Isaiah presents is that of a person who is a descendant of David, full of the Spirit and Word of God, and fully righteous who will ultimately succeed in bringing salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. This King and conqueror will do this because He is the chosen Servant sent by God.

The next topic/strand that Isaiah addresses is referred to as:

2. The Motif (pattern/concept) of the City (Jerusalem)

In the writings of Isaiah, the city of Jerusalem plays an important part in the outworking of God's plan.

A. History

The city is first introduced in Genesis 14:18 through Melchizedek who was described as the King of Salem (later to become Jerusalem) and his royal Priesthood was recognized by Abraham, who paid tithes to this priestly king. David captured this ancient city and made it the capital as well as the political and religious center of his Kingdom since the Temple and the royal palace were both eventually located there.

B. Significance of the city in Isaiah

Isaiah uses Jerusalem as a character and metaphor for the Jewish people and nation (first mentioned in Isaiah 1:1). The word metaphor is a word used to symbolize something else. He also uses the city as a metaphor for God's people all over the world, not just cultural Jews, those living in Jerusalem or living in the country of Israel.

For example, if you remember after the terrorist attack on New York City (9/11). After 9/11 people around the world said, "We are New York" as a way of expressing solidarity and sympathy with the people of New York and America itself. In this sense, all Christians can say, "We are Jerusalem" putting forth the idea that we are God's people. This was Isaiah's use of the city of Jerusalem metaphor. It was also used to establish the notion that what happened to the City happened to the people and nation as well as the spiritual nation itself.

C. Isaiah uses four interchangeable terms when he's talking about the City.

  1. Jerusalem
  2. Zion (another word for Jerusalem or holy place)
  3. Mount/Mountain
  4. City

D. He writes various themes with the city as the central object or figure.

For example:

  1. Divine judgment on the city
  2. Preservation/restoration of the city
  3. Security of the city
  4. The security one has who dwells in the city
  5. The centrality of the city in God's thought and plan
  6. The eschatological vision of the city at the end times
    • Isaiah's view of heaven was God seated as King at the center of the city reigning over the entire universe filled with righteousness and peace.

To summarize, therefore, the city of Jerusalem is used by Isaiah as a metaphor for:

  1. The Jewish nation - his present time
  2. All of God's people in the world - future time
  3. The fulfillment and the establishment of God's heavenly kingdom - at the end of time

In this section, we've examined two of the five themes/topics/strands which Isaiah will use to present his prophecies and teachings.

1. The Messianic hope seen as:

  • King - chapters 1-37
  • A Servant - chapters 38-55
  • An Anointed Conqueror - chapters 56-66

2. The Motif of the city

This is where Isaiah explores:

  • The history of Jerusalem
  • The significance of the city (representing the people now and in the future)
  • The terms by which it is referred to - Jerusalem, Zion, Mount, City.
  • He examines the city from various perspectives - judgment, restoration, etc.
  • He uses the city as a metaphor for the present, near future and end times.

In the next chapter we will review the third and fourth themes or strands that Isaiah uses:

  • 3. The Holy One of Israel
  • 4. The faith response of the Jewish people throughout history
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