Summary: All the prophets, to be sure, proclaim the salvation of the Lord, but none can match Isaiah for the sheer volume and grandeur of proclamation regarding God’s salvation.
Isaiah 1:1 The Life and Times of Isaiah
5/28/00e D. Marion Clark
The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
What draws me to Isaiah is the majestic nature of his writing. He is the Shakespeare of the biblical writers. He has it all – passion, profundity, eloquence.
Who was Isaiah? His ministry expanded the reigns of at least four kings, most likely five – Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and probably into the reign of Manasseh. This is a period of approximately 40 years, covering the time of the second half of the 8th century B.C. (750-700). The son of Amoz, he exercised his ministry in and around Jerusalem. Some commentators speculate that he was from a well-to-do family with ties to the royal family. He was married and had at least two sons.
Isaiah was a contemporary of two other prophets that we know – Micah, who also prophesied in Jerusalem, and Hosea, who prophesied in Israel. There is no mention of Isaiah and Micah knowing each other, although it is impossible to see how they could not have. There is no reference to Micah having access to the kings as Isaiah did, which again indicates that Isaiah had connections not available to Micah.
The times of Isaiah were turbulent, to say the least. King Uzziah enjoyed a prosperous reign in Judah. Under his reign of fifty-two years, Judah sustained a period of prosperity not known since the days of Solomon. Jeroboam II reigned in Israel during most of Uzziah’s reign and had similar success. But their deaths marked changes of decline. By 722 B.C., Israel would be destroyed by Assyria, it’s people forever scattered. Judah would survive the Assyrian threat, but not before being reduced to a vassal country impoverished by paying tribute to Assyria.
Uzziah’s son, Jotham served for sixteen years, pretty much in the same vein as his father. Both were described as being faithful to God, although Uzziah for some reason let pride get the best of him and fancied himself as being able to carry out the work of a priest. He entered into the temple area, reserved only for priests, and tried to burn incense on the altar of incense. He was struck with leprosy which he carried to his death. Jotham, though is described as doing what was right like Uzziah, but then is added unlike him he did not enter the temple of the Lord. Things take a marked turn for the worse when Ahaz takes the thrown.
Ahaz was the consummate opportunist. He was guided by one principle – to save his skin by whatever means. It was during his reign that Assyria conquered Israel; indeed, by his invitation Assyria took the opportunity to ravage Israel until eventually destroying the country. Israel formed a partnership with Damascus to stand against Assyria. They wanted Judah to join them and intended to dethrone Ahaz, placing their own puppet king on the throne. Ahaz’s reaction was to entreat the king of Assyria to come to his aid. The result was devastation for Israel and submission of Judah. Ahaz also used his throne to promote idolatry and even offered his own sons to the fires.
Hezekiah succeeded his father and clearly was not his “father’s son.” More so than Uzziah or Jotham, he followed the Lord, using his throne to bring reform to the country. It was Hezekiah who had the courage to tear down the altars built in the high places. He also dealt with the threat of Assyria, but unlike his father he turned to the Lord for deliverance through the counsel and encouragement of Isaiah.
The highlight of Hezekiah’s and Isaiah’s careers occurred in their response to a siege by Assyria. There were actually two separate threats made against Jerusalem by Sennacherib, king of Assyria. In the first, he sent his general to Jerusalem to order the surrender of the city. Dismayed, Hezekiah himself turned to the temple to pray and sent a petition to Isaiah to engage in prayer. Isaiah bolstered the king with an encouraging prophecy that the Assyrian king would turn away due to reports he would receive. Hezekiah did not give in, and, true to the prophecy, the king turned away with his army. Years later Sennacherib would send threats again to Hezekiah, who again would turn to God in prayer and would receive another promising word from Isaiah. That time, the Assyrian army was struck with a plague.
The scriptures do not record what happened to Isaiah. There is an apocryphal work entitled The Ascension of Isaiah which tells of how the prophet was sawed in two through the orders of Manasseh, son of Hezekiah and one of the more wicked kings of Judah. It may be in reference to this story that the author of Hebrews spoke of the men and women of faith who were killed in 11:37: They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.