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The Prophet Isaiah: A Giant Among the Prophets

Jewish Quarter Jerusalem

The Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem

“Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”  (Isaiah 12:6)

“See, My servant will act wisely; He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.  Just as there were many who were appalled at Him—His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and His form marred beyond human likeness—so He will sprinkle many nations.”  (Isaiah 52:13–15)

About 2,700 years ago, in 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, scattering the ten tribes that lived there throughout the Assyrian empire. These are the tribes that became known as the Lost Tribes of Israel.

Some 20 years later, when Assyria conquered Judah, they deported many of the Jewish People to its territories.  This time, the Jewish People were allowed to maintain a separate community and separate religion.

Assyrian archers (700–692 BC)

Assyrian archers (700–692 BC)

Amidst all this political turmoil and upheaval rose the prophet Isaiah, who has been described by some as the Shakespeare of the prophets and the St. Paul of the Tanakh (Old Testament).

He prophesied for 50 years from about 740 to 690 BC, calling the people to repentance and foreseeing the scattering of the Jewish People, a result of their sin.

Isaiah also foresaw the return of the exiles and the restoration of Israel in the last days, bringing the good news that Salvation is of the Lord, which is the meaning of the name Isaiah, (Yeshayahu in Hebrew).

“This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.”  (Isaiah 2:1–2)

In the midst of international mayhem, Isaiah affirmed that the God of Israel is the Creator of the Universe and remains in control, despite the appearance that the enemy has the upper hand.

He counseled King Ahaz and King Hezekiah to make no alliances with foreign kings, but to trust only in the Lord. In fact, a central theme of Isaiah is salvation and trusting God during perilous times. 

The deportation of the Jews by the Assyrians

The deportation of the Jews by the Assyrians

Isaiah Foresees the Coming of the Messiah

Another major theme in Isaiah’s prophecies is the coming of the Messiah.

Indeed, Isaiah provides the most comprehensive prophetic picture of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), from the announcement of His coming (Isaiah 40:3–5) to His return (60:2–3).

Isaiah contributes to our understanding by providing some of the most important descriptions of the Jewish Messiah.  These were fulfilled in the life of Yeshua of Nazareth; for example, Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).

The word translated “virgin” in English is the Hebrew word almah (עלמה), which means young girl.

While “almah” is not the word for virgin, it implies virginity, since in ancient Jewish culture, a young, unmarried girl was presumed to be a virgin; therefore, the use of the term “virgin” is appropriate here.  Moreover, the Jewish translators of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, chose the Greek word “parthenos,” which means virgin, for the Hebrew word almah.

Luke 1:26–31 describes the fulfillment of this prophecy in Miriam’s (Mary’s) supernatural conception of Yeshua.


“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:  The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [God with us].”  (Isaiah 7:14)

Altogether, there are 44 mentions in the Book of Isaiah about the Messiah that provide specific details; for instance, He is described as an heir to David’s throne (9:7; 11:1, 10).

In the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), Matthew traces Yeshua’s genealogy, revealing He is a direct descendant of King David (Matthew 1:1–17).

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.”  (Luke 1:32–33)

Isaiah 40:3–5 also states that the Messiah would be proceeded by a messenger who will prepare the way for Him.  The ministry of Yohannan the Immerser (John the Baptist) fulfills this prophecy.  (John 1:19–28)

Isaiah also describes circumstances related to Yeshua’s final hours.  Isaiah 50:6 states that He will be spat on and struck.  Yeshua’s beating is described in Matthew 26:67: “Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him.”

Yeshua Falls Beneath the Cross, by James Tissot

Yeshua Falls Beneath the Cross, by James Tissot

Isaiah Describes the Suffering Messiah

God gives Isaiah remarkable details about how the Messiah would suffer and die in order to justify the people of Israel.

Chapters 52 and 53 describe this “Suffering Messiah” who is beaten, disfigured, killed, and buried.

We read about the fulfillment of this in Mark 15:15-19: “Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Yeshua scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.”

The prophecies of chapter 53 are referred to 85 times in the New Covenant, yet they are left out of the regular Shabbat readings in the synagogues.

This chapter of Isaiah states that the Messiah will

  • have an ordinary appearance (53:2b)—fulfillment established in Philippians 2:7–8;
  • be rejected and despised by his own people (53:3b)—fulfillment established in Matthew 27:21–23 and in John 12:37–41;
  • be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (53:5)—fulfilled at the execution stake—Luke 23:33
  • be led to slaughter like a sacrificial lamb (53:7)—fulfilled in Matthew 27:27–31;
  • die with the wicked (thieves) but be buried with the rich (53:9)—fulfilled in Matthew 27:57–60;
  • justify the people and be exalted for it by God (53:11)—fulfilled in Romans 5:18–19 and John 12:27;
  • heal our sin problem with His sacrifice (53:5b) and personally bear the sins of all mankind for God (53:6a, 10, 12)—also fulfilled at the execution stake as stated in 1 Peter 2:24.
Crown of thorns

“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:5)

The Rejection of Yeshua as the Suffering Servant

Isaiah prophesies that a servant of God will die in our place, willingly taking upon Himself the punishment for our sins, suffering in silence with strength of purpose. (Isaiah 53:6–8)

When Yeshua stood before Herod Antipas (the ruler of Galilee), “he plied Him with many questions, but Yeshua gave him no answer.”  (Luke 23:9)

For followers of Yeshua, chapter 53 of Isaiah has a clear connection to His suffering, but many rabbis suggest that Isaiah’s depiction of the suffering servant is really describing the nation of Israel and not the person of the Messiah.

Among these rabbis are the 10th century Spanish Jewish scholar Ibn Ezra as well as writers found in the Talmud, Zohar, and other ancient rabbinic texts.

Modern writers, such as Marshall Roth of the Aish website, also see the suffering servant as being Israel.  To support this theory, Roth cites earlier passages in Isaiah (41:8 and 49:3) that he says refer to all Israel as God’s servant, even though the Hebrew form of “you” is in the singular form.

Furthermore, Roth cites the Holocaust as one proof of Israel’s suffering.

Roman execution stake jesus on the cross

“When we were utterly helpless, Messiah came at just the right time and died for us sinners.”  (Romans 5:6)

To futher deny the notion that Yeshua can both suffer and redeem Israel, Rabbis traditionallly believe that there will actually be two Messiahs:  one being Messiah ben Yosef (Messiah Son of Joseph) who will appear first and, if necessary, fight a war against Israel’s enemies, only to be killed in it.  The other being Messiah ben David (Messiah Son of David), who will be the conquering King Messiah.

Therefore, some renowned rabbis have believed that the passages in Isaiah 53 apply to Messiah ben Yosef, the Suffering Messiah.

However, Jewish believers in Yeshua contend that there is one Messiah who is both the suffering Messiah described in Isaiah 53 who was “pierced for our transgressions,” as well as the King Messiah, Messiah ben David, who is yet to come.

Yeshua will in the future fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of the Coming King, when He returns and reigns from the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”  (Isaiah 9:6–7)

The above Assyrian panel, called the Lashish Relief, shows the Assyrian cavalry in action. The scene at the top shows prisoners being led away. Lashish was captured by Sennacherib during King Hezekiah's revolt against Assyria, despite the city's determined resistance.

The above Assyrian panel, called the Lashish Relief, shows the Assyrian cavalry in action.  The scene at the top shows prisoners being led away.  Lashish was captured by Sennacherib during King Hezekiah’s revolt against Assyria, despite the city’s determined resistance.

Who Was Isaiah?

Born into a royal family living in Judah, Isaiah was the son of a man named Amoz, traditionally thought to be a prophet as well.

Isaiah had two sons whose names also speak of the coming judgment and God’s power to save.  The name of the elder, Shear-Yashuv (Isaiah 7:3), means a remnant shall return and the younger, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isaiah 8:3), means the spoil speedeth, the prey hasteth.

Though he had royal access, Isaiah was a down-to-earth, principled man who stood up for people of all classes.  While he did so, a younger contemporary, Micah, reached out to the poorer classes living in the countryside.

While Isaiah preached in Jerusalem, warning of its soon destruction at the hands of the Assyrians due to the sin of idol worship and immorality, his contemporaries, the prophets Amos (755 BC) and Hosea (750–725 BC), preached to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Isaiah first appeared publicly during the reign of Uzziah.  Although Uzziah was essentially a good and wise king, his downfall was pride.  Because he was proud, he offered incense in the Temple, a rite reserved for the priests.  God, therefore, struck Uzziah with leprosy.

Isaiah must have mourned the loss of the king, and in chapter 6, he sees a vision of God on the throne. Despite the king’s death, God is in control.

After Uzziah’s death, the Assyrians entered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and make their way to the borders of Judah.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

Isaiah: A Giant Among Prophets

Isaiah ben Amoz towers above the other Biblical prophets in that he spoke more of the coming Messiah than any other.  At the same time, he entrenched his ministry into the politics of the day, boldly challenging the people and the leaders of Judah to follow the Holy One of Israel.

As such, he is a primary example of how the Jewish prophets engaged with the social and political arena of their time, expressing an impassioned concern for pursuing a life governed by God’s laws and precepts.

Isaiah 7:1–16 reveals this role when Isaiah encouraged King Ahaz of Judah during an attack by King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah, son of Remaliah of Israel, when they attempted to conquer Jerusalem.

Although they besieged Jerusalem, they could not overcome it.  (2 Kings 16:5)

In this context of war and God’s judgment against Judah, Isaiah explained that the Lord would provide a sign of the coming redemption:

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel.”  (Isaiah 7:14)

Immanuel means God with us; this verse points to a time in the future when God will provide spiritual salvation through Yeshua; however, it also points to physical salvation from Ahaz’ enemies. 

An Orthodox Israeli couple walks along the walls of Jerusalem.

An Orthodox Israeli couple walks along the walls of Jerusalem.

Later, during the reign of King Hezekiah, Isaiah again brought the prophetic word of judgment and salvation to the people.

Hezekiah introduced sweeping religious reforms that gained Isaiah’s approval and support.

However, when Hezekiah formed an alliance with Egypt against Assyria, Isaiah withdrew his support saying that Hezekiah showed a lack of faith in the Lord.

The Assyrian forces, led by King Sennacherib, had succeeded in capturing many of the outlying walled cities and taking possibly as many as 200,000 captives.  They besieged Jerusalem, but did not enter it.

His field commander tried to terrorize and negotiate with Hezekiah, saying:

“‘Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses—if you can put riders on them!  How then can you repulse one officer of the least of my master’s officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen?  Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord?  The Lord Himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.’”  (Isaiah 36:8–10)

The walls of Jerusalem

The walls of Jerusalem

On hearing this utterance of doom, Hezekiah tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and entered the Temple.

He sent messengers to seek the advice of the true prophet, Isaiah.

Isaiah responded by telling Hezekiah not to fear but to put his trust in the Lord.

“Tell your master, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.  Listen!  I am going to put a spirit in him so that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’”  (Isaiah 37:6–7)

Although Sennacherib was certain of his coming victory, and recounted a long list of nations that the Assyrians had destroyed, Hezekiah heeded Isaiah’s advice.  Instead of panicking, he demonstrated his faith in the Lord by taking Sennacherib’s letter of utter destruction into the Temple and laying it out before God (Isaiah 37:10–13; 21–29).

God once again reassured Hezekiah: “He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it.  By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city.”

What followed was truly supernatural: God sent an angel into the Assyrian camp and struck down 185,000 soldiers as they slept.

God honored Hezekiah’s willingness to listen to His servant Isaiah, to humble himself during a time of trouble, and to turn to God. God responded by doing something that seemed impossible: He freed Jerusalem from the grip of a foreign king and his massive army, without a single arrow being fired.

Jewish women pray in Jerusalem

Jewish women pray in Jerusalem

Miracles in Our Lives

The book of Isaiah is filled with many gems like the story of Hezekiah and Sennacherib that help us understand how God is at work in Israel, as well as in the world.

His prophecies continue to be fulfilled even today; for instance, Isaiah prophesied that a nation would be born in a single day.

Of course, in May 1948, that prophecy was fulfilled when Israel once again became a nation in a single day, without one shot being fired.

And we continue to see Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the Jewish People come true, as God continues to gather His people home to the land of Israel.

While these end-time prophecies are being fulfilled, we can be certain that He will certainly also regather His Chosen People to Himself in a magnificent end-time revival. 

Israeli man prays Western (Wailing) Wall Old City of Jerusalem tallit prayer shawl tefillin phylacteries

An Israeli man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries).

With 66 chapters, there is so much hope and understanding that this Hebrew prophet can bring to those who diligently search for it.

Isaiah’s amazing book even gives us a strategy to deal with those who wish to destroy our lives and our nation.  Just as Hezekiah did, we must seek wisdom and direction from the Word of God by bringing our petitions before the Lord with a humble spirit.

It is only God who can bring us through troubled times, work miracles, and make the impossible happen.

He did it for Hezekiah and he will do it for every person and nation who repents and turns to Him.

May each of us grow in faith as we look forward to the return of Yeshua, the Messianic age about which Isaiah prophesied, and the future glory of God’s people:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.  See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you.  Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”  (Isaiah 60:1–3)

Knowing this, let’s walk in faith with the full understanding that however bleak things may seem, especially in these last days as we await His return, we have a God who answers prayer and brings righteousness and justice to the world.

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