The book of Isaiah covers roughly 50 years of time. There are many who argue that Isaiah has many authors, but that is debatable. What is clear is that there are three distinct time frames of the book. However, there has never been a single manuscript of Isaiah found that has been divided in any way. Every copy of Isaiah, unless the papyrus was already fragmented and in pieces, includes the same passages in the same order with no delineation mentioned. The reason that many scholars insist on multiple authors over many years is because the later sections of Isaiah contain prophecy about events long after the real Isaiah’s lifetime. So clearly, they say, someone else wrote the latter sections and placed his work with the real Isaiah’s. But the lack of a single, solitary copy of Isaiah divided into sections cannot be ignored. The burden of proof sits on the shoulders of those who are trying to divide the book.
But if we accept that the Spirit of God is the primary author of the book, and if we accept that there is prophecy concerning the future in other sections of the Bible, then why would it be necessary to eliminate the possibility of prophecy in a book of prophecy? Isaiah directly addresses people in the future, by as much as 200 years. If 200 years is too far ahead for divine revelation, then how can we know that any prophecy concerning the end of the age can be trusted? All that to say, Isaiah put his various visions together before the exile of the northern kingdom, roughly between 739-681 BC.
Assyria has been in power for some time, but their greatness is coming to an end. They are trying to expand their empire, and Israel is in their sights. Amos and Hosea are also prophesying during this time. By 722 BC, Israel has fallen to Assyria. The Assyrians would scatter the Israelites around their empire, while simultaneously moving other Assyrian-dominated peoples into Israel. It was a way of loosening identity markers and lessening a chance of revolt against Assyria.
The Babylonians, Medes, and Persians joined forces against Assyria and dominated the weak and shrinking Assyrian empire around 609 BC. It would be the Babylonian empire that sacks Jerusalem and destroyed the temple by 586 BC. Babylonians did not diversify the land of Judah but instead moved the wealthy and healthy Jews to Babylon. Isaiah would have seen the Assyrian conquest of Samaria (the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel) but would not have lived to see the Babylonian conquest of Judah.
A summary of and commentary on Isaiah 1-26 would be longer than the book itself. What I intend to do is point out major themes and passages that might have some debate surrounding their interpretation and meaning.
Judah is denounced as a wicked kingdom for forsaking right worship of God and obedience to the law. God will, therefore, hide his face from them and refuse to hear their prayers. Even in the midst of that promise, he calls them to repentance (1:16-17, 27). There is plenty of mercy in the Old Testament.
Chapter 2 mentions the day of the Lord in various ways: “that day” (2:11, 17), “the LORD of hosts has a day” (2:12), etc. The day of the Lord is how the prophets speak of the day of God’s judgment. On that day, men will run and hide. Sometimes, the day of the Lord speaks to the final day of judgment at the end of this age. Sometimes, it refers to a near-term judgment. Context is what decides the matter.
There are always disagreements on how to interpret Old Testament prophecy and fulfillment. The apostles make clear at many points that there were specific messianic prophecies that Jesus Christ fulfilled. They also insist that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law in general. Jesus showed the disciples everything in the law and prophets that concerned himself (Luke 24:13-27). Does that go for prophecies that seem to be directly addressing the nation of Israel? How can one man fulfill prophecies made to a nation?
The answer comes in that Christ receives both the blessings and the curses on Israel’s behalf. Isaiah identifies how Israel had broken the Mosaic covenant and then gives a vision of a restored Jerusalem. He does this multiple times (1:2-2:5, 2:6-4:6, for example). Isaiah is then commissioned as a prophet (6:8-13). He is sent to meet with King Ahaz to speak about upcoming invasions.
Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel have formed an alliance and have threatened Judah. Ahaz looks for military help from Assyria instead of seeking spiritual help from God. Isaiah enters to tell Ahaz to seek the Lord. He is also permitted to request a sign to prove God’s help is coming. Even though Ahaz is told to request a sign of confirmation from God, he refuses. He does not intend to seek God’s help. God gives a sign anyways, in a sort of condemnation of Ahaz’s disobedience. The confirmation of God’s word will be that a virgin gives birth to a son (7:10-17).
Some scholars argue that the word for “virgin” does not always mean “virgin”, so there’s no need to read that nuance into the word. But even if the Hebrew can refer to a young woman without any reference to her virginity, it is used often enough along other descriptions of a virgin to recognize that you assume the virginity of the woman if that word is used.
What about fulfillment? Was this fulfilled immediately in Ahaz’s day? Matthew uses this passage and identifies Jesus as its fulfillment (Matthew 1:23). I believe the best interpretation understands that the virgin-born child of Isaiah 7 was a type or a foreshadow of what was to come. So Matthew can rightly say that Jesus fulfills the point of this passage—a typological reading of Scripture, meaning the child serves as a person who created a category that Jesus would fulfill. As God was with Israel in destroying Assyria, so God is with Israel in his Son.
This understanding of prophecy, of a near fulfillment in Israel and an ultimate fulfillment in Christ, is an old hermeneutic, or means of interpretation. It also aligns nicely with the apostolic contention that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Ultimately, we must read the Bible as the apostles taught us to.
The theme of a “branch” is common in Isaiah. In chapter 4, the branch that is grown by the Lord will be beautiful and glorious (4:2, 10). In chapter 11, a branch will grow from the (genealogical) roots of Jesse, or the father of King David. A branch is a natural growth, but it is small at first. As a branch grows from a strong root, so there will come a branch from the sure promises of God. This branch, of course, is later known to be Christ.
Isaiah 14 is a passage of great interest. It is often used to describe the fall of Satan (14:3-20 primarily), but I believe that’s a problem. First, Isaiah himself wrote that this passage was a “taunt against the king of Babylon” (14:4). That’s not a heading the translators added in; that’s the inspired text. He has been speaking about Babylon since chapter 13. Verses 4-8 say nothing about a being of the spirit-realm, simply an “oppressor”. God has struck down this king of Babylon, and the whole earth is grateful. Verse 9 says that Sheol, or the grave, is excited to greet this king, as it does all wicked leaders of the earth. Those wicked kings who have died before will greet the king of Babylon (v.10). Maggots and worms will eventually consume him (v.11). Whoever is being consumed is human, not angelic.
Once we get to verse 12, we start to hear traditional words and phrases attributed to the fall of Satan. Unless you already assume the Day Star and the son of Dawn to be Satan, what evidence is there, from the text itself, to claim this is Satan? Rather, taken in its cultural context, Isaiah is mocking (or taunting, as he has already said in v.4) the king of Babylon with Babylonian imagery. They believed their kings were gods, descended from heaven.
“Day Star, son of Dawn” translates the Hebrew “hêlēl bēn šaḥar”. hêlēl means “brightest star”, or Venus. “Son of Dawn” is another phrase for the same thing. This is substantiated by the fact that the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, used the Greek word heosphoros, which gives us the word phosphorus, which is bright and glows in the dark. When the Bible was translated into Latin by Jerome, the word he chose was lucifer, which means light carrier. The reason we have attributed the Latin word lucifer to be the proper name for Satan is because of this misinterpretation.
The king of Babylon became proud. He believed he could be like a god. The word for god in v.13 is el, not Elohim, making it even clearer that what is in mind is not the covenant God of Israel but the false god of the Babylonians. He wants his throne to be near the thrones of the other gods of Babylon. “North” or “Zaphon” of v.13 is also a Babylonian location, not the throne room of God.
The “heights” or “high places” of v.14 were locations where sacrifices took place. They were on mountains or hilltops, or near the clouds. You should remember that God repeatedly told the Israelites to remove the high places in Israel, which were often built because of influence from other nations. The king of Babylon wants to be like the Most High, or in the presence of the gods. Instead, he will be brought low, down even to the grave like the rest of mankind. His sins include destroying his own land and murdering his own people (14:20). Moving forward to chapter 21, we see the taunt has come true—Babylon will fall.
Several taunts, or oracles like this, take place in Isaiah. We should not isolate one to make it about Satan when context makes a clear identification otherwise. Chapters 13-14 are about Babylon, chapter 15 is about Moab, chapter 17 is about Damascus, chapter 18 is about Cush, chapter 19 is about Egypt, chapter 22 is about Jerusalem, chapter 23 is about Tyre and Sidon, and chapter 24 is about the whole earth. Are these also veiled allusions to the fall of Satan?
A couple of early church fathers argued that Jesus saying he saw Satan fall like lighting in Luke 10:18 is referring back to Isaiah 14. But in Luke 10, context shows that Jesus is referring specifically to the casting out of demons that he just sent his apostles out to do.
2 Corinthians 6-12
As Paul continues urging the Corinthians to participate in the ministry of reconciliation, he reminds them of the urgency of their mandate. He quotes Isaiah 49:8, insisting that God is still calling people to repentance. Paul has endured persecution for calling for repentance, but there is no other means by which men are saved. Just because the fallen world despises what repentance means, namely, that we are not inherently good but wicked, doesn’t mean that we change the message.
Paul does not simply throw in the command against being unequally yoked at random. Paul has been substantiating his apostolic status throughout the letter because there are those within the church telling people to turn away from Paul. The apostles carried the untarnished message of reconciliation between God and man. So to reject that message, whether by attacking the message or its messengers, was tantamount to unbelief.
The name “Belial” is not a common name for Satan, but there are plenty of examples of it outside of Scripture in other Jewish writings. It means something like “worthless”. Christians have no business linking arms with those worthless so-called believers who want to be called a Christian but actively reject nearly everything of apostolic Christianity. In theory, you would never combine worship services between God and Satan, so don’t do it in practice, either.
About halfway through the letter, Paul shows his thanks for those who have not linked arms with worthless so-called believers and repented of the sins that prompted his first few letters. It may have caused them grief, but it also caused them forgiveness, for which Paul has no regret. That’s because there is a certain kind of grief that is good, namely that which leads to salvation. That they have listened to his warnings brings Paul great comfort.
Because the church has proven their faith through repentance and godly grief, he urges them to contribute to a collection being made for the church in Jerusalem. It may have been that there were simply so many believers in need in Jerusalem that nearby Christians were being urged to chip in. We should gladly support our brothers or sisters who are in need, near for far. Paul’s admonition to give again comes from the gospel. When you consider that Christ was the agent of creation, and is therefore the sovereign of all creation, yet he made himself poor and took on the form of servant for us, we can hardly lay our own sovereign claim to anything we have that another justifiably needs. Therefore, our giving, whether small or large, should be done with a sense of joy. We are only mimicking our Lord and Savior.
Paul begin to finally address those in rebellion against him in chapter 10. Through his previous visits and letters, he has shown extreme patience. But the time is coming when those who stand against him need to have some decisive action taken against them. They are teaching things contrary to the gospel Paul has been preaching. But Paul’s ministry is one of building up, not tearing down. Therefore, building up may at times requires punishing disobedience in the same way healing the body may at times mean a painful surgery or amputation. Even if Paul has a reputation of being mild in person but angry in his letters, they should get ready to see just how angry Paul can get at those who rebel against the gospel message and lead others down the same path.
Boasting is usually a foolish endeavor. But in this instance, Paul knows that it is necessary to remind the Corinthians, and perhaps especially those in rebellion, of his apostolic pedigree. They are not dealing with a weak man bringing a weak message. “Super-apostle” is sarcasm, not something Paul really believes about these disobedient, contrarian teachers. They’re preaching a different gospel about a different Jesus; there is nothing “super” about them. He later calls the same people “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (11:13).
Paul had everything going for him, from his lineage to his education to his obedience. But he humbled himself to reach the Corinthians. Not only does his heritage make him a respectable man, but he has also been willing to suffer greatly for the gospel. He will go to any length to have the gospel preached, even if it means danger for him.
While he may have all of the requisite credentials of a great man, God still saw fit to humble him. This would make his weaknesses shout God’s glory. When Paul says that he will go on boasting about visions, he does so in a way that doesn’t elevate himself but the God who gave the visions. Most likely, Paul is actually speaking of himself when he speaks of the visions a certain man saw as he was caught up to the third heaven. It is best to think of Paul referring to the three heavens as the sky, beyond the sky, and God’s dwelling place.
Verses 5-6 seems to clarify that Paul is indeed speaking of himself. Instead of boasting about high-dollar spiritual experiences, he will instead boast about his weaknesses. It is in Paul’s weakness that God is glorified, and Paul would rather have God glorified than spend time boasting about how spiritual he is.
We’re not sure what exactly Paul’s thorn in the side was, and most attempts at speculation are fruitless. Regardless, God in his providence did not remove the thorn. Paul begged God to do what only God could do and remove it, but God did something greater. He taught Paul about grace. The strength that Paul might have had without that thorn still pales in comparison to the strength of God at work in him.