Isaiah’s Unique Prophecy

In a recent issue of Torch and Trumpet we sought to trace very briefly the history of criticism of Isaiah. It was an interesting path to follow, for criticism, although it would deny to Isaiah the authorship of the entire book which bears his name, nevertheless has been unable to provide a substitute explanation of the authorship of the book. In the light of this fact we may look again at the case for the Isaianic authorship and seek again to evaluate it.



The New Testament

At the outset we must stress that that which settles the case for us is the witness of the New Testament. This is not the place to marshal the entire evidence which the New Testament presents. We have done that elsewhere (See An Introduction to the Old Testament, Eerdmans, 1949), and there is no particular point to be gained in repeating that information here. There is however one point which should be stressed. It is that the New Testament does very definitely posit Isaianic authorship for the entire prophecy. That is a fact which cannot be denied nor explained away.

What however is the value of such evidence? To the present writer such evidence is absolutely conclusive. The New Testament is the Word of God, and when the New Testament speaks upon a subject, whatever that subject may be, it is to be heeded. That which settles once and for all time the question of the Isaianic authorship of the prophecy, is the clear-cut witness of the New Testament. At this point an objection is frequently raised. Such appeal to the New Testament, it is sometimes claimed, cannot be regarded as objective scholarship. To this objection we would reply that in scholarship as well as in anything else a man must proceed along Christian principles or else he will never arrive at the truth. One cannot set himself up as a judge as to what is true and what is not true in the Scriptures. To do that is to proceed upon non-Christian foundations, and it is precisely that, we may note, which the modem “scientific” method would advocate.

For our part we want to employ a Christian methodology in our study, and such methodology will look upon the New Testament as true and trustworthy in all that it says. The New Testament, therefore, is our standard, and when it speaks upon the question of Isaianic authorship, we are willing to follow.

Other Lines of Evidence

Are the contents of the book of Isaiah such, however, as to fly in the face of the witness of the New Testament? To this we must answer with an emphatic negative. The internal contents of Isaiah are in perfect conformity with what the New Testament says. We may note first of all the emphasis which runs throughout the prophecy upon the holiness of God. It was Isaiah who in vision was in the Temple and beheld the eternal God seated upon a throne high and lifted up. It was he who heard the seraphs in antiphonal chorus crying one to another “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the fulness of all the earth is his glory.”

This remarkable vision fell upon the prophet a profound conviction of his own sinfulness and unworthiness, and we may rightly say that throughout his life this impression of the holiness of God never left him.

Thus, Isaiah, and only Isaiah, delights to speak of the Lord as the “Holy One of Israel.” All told he uses this striking designation of God twenty-six times, and outside the book of lsaiah the expression is found only five times in the entire Old Testament. Now what is of particular interest is to note the manner in which this phrase is distributed throughout the entire book. If Isaiah were the author only of the first thirty-nine chapters, we should expect to find the phrase only in these chapters. That, however, is not what we find. Rather in the just thirty-nine chapters of the book, this designation, “the Holy One of Israel” is found twelve times, and in the last twenty-seven chapters it is to be found fourteen times. This is indeed remarkable. It does not of course prove authorship of the entire prophecy. It does however, point toward such authorship. He who had been so greatly awed by the majestic vision in the Temple would delight to speak of God as the Holy One of Israel. Thus, this phrase appears throughout the book, reminding the reader of the fact that the God whom Isaiah saw was a Holy God.

In addition to this phrase there are others which seem to be favorites of Isaiah. The words, “the mouth or the Lord hath spoken it” is indeed familiar to us. It is, however, a phrase which must have been loved of the prophet, for he used it in both parts of his prophecy. The same is true of the phrase, “streams in the desert.” It is truly lsaianic. The word “caprice,” pronounced in the Hebrew ta-alu-leem, is a very rare word; yet it is found in both parts of the prophecy of Isaiah. The same is true of the unusual word “thornbush” (pronounced na-atzutz). Other examples could also be adduced, but these will serve to show that there is a certain unity of vocabulary and thought-expression which characterizes the entire prophecy.

Other Considerations

There are certain other considerations which militate against the view of an exilic “second” Isaiah and which support the time honored position that Isaiah himself was the author of the entire hook. Chapters 40–66 were not written in Babylon. In 43:14—the Lord speaks of spending to Babylon and bringing down the nobles and the Chaldeans. This passage is clearly addressed to those who are not in Babylon. Again in 41:9 the prophet addresses Israel as the seed of Abraham which the Lord has taken from the ends of the earth. By this phrase, the ends of the earth, reference is made to the lands of the dispersion, among which Babylonia must be included. Such a phrase could have been employed only by one who was writing in the promised land.

The same may be said of such a passage as 45:22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else.” It is the consistent representation of the Old Testament that the phrase “ends of the earth” refers to nations and lands that were distant from Palestine. In 46:11 the Lord speaks of Cyrus as follows: “Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country.” It is difficult to understand these words, if they were uttered in Babylon. But all question is ruled out by the statement in 52:11, “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, go ye out of the midst of her.” The words “from thence” show conclusively that this passage was written by one who was not in Babylon. Such examples could be multiplied. They become particularly cogent when considered in the light of other passages which show that these chapters were written in Palestine. The writer shows a knowledge of the trees of Palestine, “He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest” (44:14). Imagine such a verse being written by one who had spent the greater part of his life in Babylon! It is unthinkable. Or take the familiar verse, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain”;(40:3). How applicable such language is to Palestine, but how out of place as a description of the Mesopotamian plain. Furthermore, the center of the prophet’s thoughts hovers about Zion and Jerusalem. “Speak ye comfortably unto Jerusalem” (40: 2a); “O Zion, that bringeth good tidings—O Jerusalem, that bringeth good tidings.” “Say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God” (10:9). “The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings” (41:27); He “that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built” (44:26); “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem” (62:6a). Note that the walls are regarded as still standing.

Although there can be little doubt that Palestine was the place in which these chapters were composed, it is nevertheless a fact that there are references to the exile in Babylon and to the return therefrom. This is particularly clear in chapter 52. It is the “captive daughter” of Zion that is addressed. But this captive is commanded to go out from bondage, “for the Lord God will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your reward” (52:1b). It is Cyrus who is to deliver the people and in the distant future, is to perform the Lord’s pleasure. Then it shall be said “…to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (44:28).

It is safe therefore to say that Isaiah 40–66 was not written in Babylon but in Palestine. Nevertheless it does reflect the period of the Babylonian exile. What then, is the explanation of these facts? The explanation, it would seem, lies in the fact, that the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, wrote during his later life and at his leisure concerning the fortunes and destinies of God’s people, the Church. Isaiah, the citizen of Judah, was the author; therefore the book reflects the place of its composition. But the prophet sees his people in bondage and in need of deliverance. From the yoke of exile he sees the deliverer, Cyrus. The exile, however, is only typical of the greater spiritual bondage from which God’s people must be set free. The prophet therefore speaks of the Servant of the Lord, who had come to set his people free. Hence, there is reference in the prophecy to the captivity and to the deliverance from Babylon. Assume a purely Babylonian background for the book, and you will stumble upon those passages which show that the book was not written in Babylon. Assume it purely Palestinian coloring, and you will have to resort to some desperate expedient to explain away or to do away with the Babylonian references. But upon the supposition that Isaiah the son of Amoz was the author, both the Palestinian and the Babylonian references become clear.