The Prophet Isaiah

Published Tuesday 27th Oct. 2020, at 11:23 a.m.


Since I started the daily emails in March, the reflections have tended to be on the Gospel and the first reading has been from the Torah and then from the Historical Books. We are coming to the end of the liturgical year, and from next week we begin again reading through the Holy Scriptures. The content of morning prayer – the Book of Revelations, the Book of Daniel, the Book of Isaiah – are deliberately chosen to point us towards Advent and the great Christian themes of the coming of Christ, past, present, and future. At morning prayer we begin reading the prophet Isaiah, so I plan to make these daily reflections on the prophetic readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, beginning with the Book of Isaiah which, as we approach the end of the year, is understood as a prophecy of both the first and second coming of the Messiah. The Book of Isaiah is the prophetic book of the Old Testament and, along with the Book of Psalms, has probably been the most influential OT work for Judaism and Christianity. Although Isaiah is always first on the list of prophets Major and Minor, in historical terms he followed the prophets Amos and Hosea, and was a contemporary of Micah. The book is divided into three parts: Isaiah 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66. The first part, almost certainly the actual words of Isaiah, is addressed to Jerusalem and Judah in the 2nd half of the eighth century BC when the nation was being threatened by Assyria (if you’ve been following the readings in this email you’ll recognise this, as the story appears in 2 Kings). The second part is addressed to Jerusalem and Judah during the exile in Babylon (587-537 BC), and the third part, after the return to Jerusalem. The authorship of Isaiah is very complicated. Some parts will be from the prophet himself, others will be from what might called the ‘School of Isaiah’, his followers and like thinkers in later generations. It is an amalgam of materials from different authors in the same way as the Psalms of ‘David’, or the Wisdom of ‘Solomon’. We don’t know much about who Isaiah was, though he was probably a member of a leading Jerusalemite family – a political insider – and prophesied across more than half a century, covering the reigns of five kings in Jerusalem. There is a Jewish tradition that he was murdered by the wicked king Mannaseh, son of the good king Hezekiah. Jerusalem – or Sion – dominates his oracles. It is a type, or symbol, for the whole People of God, Israel, and the opening chapters of Isaiah are a strong critique of idol worship and hypocrisy in religion. The other major theme is trust in the Lord, even when the threat would seem overwhelming. Restoration depends on repentance and though the opening chapters can be read as dealing with events in Jerusalem in his own time, they are also meant to be read as prophecies of the end times - they are eschatological – and thus are for all people of all times and all places. St Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335–395) believed that the Prophet Isaiah "knew more perfectly than all others the mystery of the religion of the Gospel". And St Jerome (AD 342–420) also lauds the Prophet Isaiah, saying, "He was more of an Evangelist than a Prophet, because he described all of the Mysteries of the Church of Christ so vividly that you would assume he was not prophesying about the future, but rather was composing a history of past events." Of specific note are the songs of the Suffering Servant, which Christianity has always seen as a direct prophetic revelation of the nature and purpose of the death of Jesus Christ. Enjoy! Fr Tim