Of all the major prophets, perhaps Isaiah of Jerusalem (First Isaiah) best exemplifies how prophets are rooted in real time with real issues. His prophetic career lasted 40 years through several kings of Judah (Jotham, the weak Ahaz, and the reformer Hezekiah); through several entangling alliances (Syria and Israel against Assyria; Judah as a tributary vassal of Assyria; Judah and Egypt against Assyria); several invasions, sieges, and battles.
The key historical events:
• Syro-Ephraimic War (734-732 BC)
• Fall of Israel (northern kingdom) to Assyria (722/721 BC)
• Assyrian siege of Jerusalem (701 BC)
First Isaiah strikes me as an urban sophisticate. He was an educated man from an upper class family, an advisor to the king. Scholars speculate he may have been a physician, a member of the court, or a priest or temple official. Isaiah was married to a prophetess and had two children. His call to prophecy came while at prayer in the temple. While earlier prophets had no special regard for Jerusalem, Isaiah believed Yahweh chose David’s city as the place to dwell among his people.
He was familiar with international politics but renounced all political intrigue and advised neutrality. Trust in Yahweh’s help and protection was the correct policy. At one point he walked naked in Jerusalem to stir opposition to a rebellion against Assyria.
Isaiah viewed the eastern superpower of Assyria as an agent of God’s judgment. The people of Judah had incurred God’s wrath for their sins of pride, social injustice and idolatry. Judah would be destroyed and purged, but the punishment would be redemptive. From the remnant that survived, a new Jerusalem would emerge, a repentant and cleansed people led by a just and wise ruler. The covenant was a source of hope, and the Davidic dynasty would endure.
Other major themes:
• Empty worship
• Holiness of God
• Infidelity and social injustice
• Trust in the Lord
Jewish legend has it that Isaiah was executed by order of King Manasseh, sawn in two while in a cedar tree.