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The Book of Isaiah

Updated on February 1, 2010

Isaiah was a Hebrew prophet and a book of the Old Testament containing his message. The name is spelled Isaias in Roman Catholic translations. The prophet Isaiah was a respected figure at the royal court of Jerusalem, capital of the kingdom of Judah, in the late 8th century B.C. Although he has traditionally been considered the author of the whole book of Isaiah, most scholars today believe that it was compiled from the writings of two or three men. The book declares the greatness of God and hope for mankind in a rich and eloquent style that makes it one of the most beautiful books in the Bible.

The first section, Chapter 1 through Chapter 39, is probably by Isaiah. It concerns the period when the expanding Assyrian Empire dominated most of western Mesopotamia and threatened to take the kingdom of Judah, which blocked the route to Egypt. Isaiah prophesies that unless the Jews give up unjust deeds and idol worship, God will send Assyria to destroy them. Walking barefoot through Judah, Isaiah preaches that Assyria and other wicked nations will also be cast down. He promises, however, that a small number of righteous Jews will survive to form a new kingdom ruled in justice and peace. Jews regard the coming ruler of this kingdom as the Messiah, or savior, whom Christians identify with Christ. By the conclusion of the first section of the book, Assyria has indeed conquered the kingdom of Israel and is besieging Jerusalem. Isaiah says that the Lord has promised to save the city, and the book relates that God sent an angel to strike down the Assyrian army under Sennacherib. Many historians think that a plague ended the siege.

The second section of the book, Chapter 40 through Chapter 55, is usually attributed to a writer called Second Isaiah. He is believed to have lived in the 6th century B.C., after Judah had been conquered by the Babylonians and the Jews had been exiled to Babylonia. To encourage the Jews to preserve their faith while in exile, Second Isaiah promises that God will deliver them. In four famous "servant" songs he foretells the coming of a servant whose sufferings will atone for the sins of the Jews and who will bring about the messianic kingdom and carry God's Word to all nations. Although Second Isaiah probably used "servant" to mean the remnant of righteous Jews, Christians think he was referring to the coming Christ.

Some scholars believe that the third section of the book, Chapter 56 through Chapter 66, was written by a Third Isaiah, just before or shortly after the return of the Jews from exile between 520 B.C. and 444 B.C. The writer repeats the message that God will punish the wicked and save the righteous, who will enjoy a peaceful and prosperous new Jerusalem.

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