Lesson 38: “Beside Me There Is No Saviour”
Our current manual’s treatment of Isaiah is spread over a half dozen lessons, each one emphasizing a different aspect of Isaiah’s prophecies – the coming of the Savior, events of the last days, etc. Manuals of the past have tended to allot one or at most two lessons to Isaiah, more often writing of him in the historical context than examining his prophecies. This lesson from 1944 goes farther than most of the old books in looking at Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the latter days, including a few concerning the Messiah, which is the focus of this lesson this year.
Isaiah – Poet, Prophet, Statesman
The Greatness of the Man. – Isaiah was one of the greatest men of all time. Certainly none of the prophets of the Old Testament, so far as we can tell from their writings, was greater than he. In the first place, Isaiah had great natural gifts, which were disciplined and sharpened by the best education that his time afforded. He was blessed with fine judgment and insight together with the courage to defend to the uttermost a cause he knew to be right. Secondly, he possessed great spiritual intuition and insight which made him a marvelous and ready instrument in the hands of Jehovah, whom he loved and served with all his heart. Isaiah thus combined earthly and heavenly wisdom to an unusual degree. All these gifts he of course used for the benefit of his fellow men. Valeton gives the following tribute to him:
“Never perhaps has there been another prophet like Isaiah, who stood with his head in the clouds and his feet on the solid earth, with his heart in the things of eternity and with mouth and hand in the things of time, with his spirit in the eternal counsel of God and his body in a very definite moment of history.”
Some Facts about Isaiah’s Personal History. – As the superscription (1:1) of the book makes plain, Isaiah was the son of Amoz (not to be confused with Amos) and his ministry took place during the last half of the eighth century B.C. His name means “Jehovah saves” or, perhaps, “Jehovah brings salvation.” Isaiah seemed to be keenly aware of the meaning of his name for he continually used the words that comprise it. (The name is composite.) So far as can be ascertained, Isaiah was a native of Jerusalem and therefore a city prophet. Throughout the book he mentions Jerusalem and since he was a close confidant of the king, he is sometimes spoken of as a court prophet. According to tradition, Isaiah was a cousin of king Uzziah and from the prophet’s own statements it may be deduced that he apparently came from a family of high rank. (See Isa. 7:3. Note Isaiah’s ready access to the king. Note also 8:2 where he seems to have easy access to the religious leaders.) Isaiah was married, though we do not know the name of his wife. She is simply spoken of as the “prophetess.” *8:3.) Two sons are mentioned, Shear-jashub (7:3) and Mahershalal-hash-baz. (8:3.) The meanings of these names are respectively, “a remnant shall return” and “the spoil speedeth, the prey hasteth” and symbolize, at least in part, Isaiah’s message to his people.
Isaiah as Poet and Statesman. – Isaiah has no rival in the Old Testament for his versatility of expression and brilliancy of imagery. Dr. G.L. Robinson pays the following tribute to his literary ability:
“His style marks the climax of Hebrew literary art. both his periods and descriptions are most finished and sublime. ‘Every word from him stirs and strikes its mark,’ says Dillman. Beauty and strength are characteristic of his entire book. He is a perfect artist in words.’”
Isaiah not only had great literary gifts but his fine mind, education, and broad acquaintance with men in all walks of life qualified him to be a statesman of the first rank. Judging from his book the political horizon of the prophet, both foreign and domestic, was very extended and included Assyria, Babylonia, Syria, Egypt, Moab, Edom, Ethiopia, Arabia, Ammon, the isles of the sea, and all parts of Palestine. Isaiah’s counsel to his people was to trust in God and not to make entangling alliances with other powers who would only lead them into trouble. When his counsel was kept the kingdom profited, otherwise not. It was due to the prophet’s wise counsel and advice that Jerusalem was saved rom Sennacherib in 701 B.C.
The Period of Isaiah’s Ministry. – Isaiah lived and prophesied during the reigns of four kings of Judah – Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. (1:1.) the chronology of the regal period of Israel and Judah is somewhat uncertain, but it is reasonable to believe that Isaiah’s ministry occupied at least forty years. It began in the year that King Uzziah died 9circa 740 B.C.) and lasted until near the end of Hezekiah’s reign (circa 695 B.C.). There is a tradition that Isaiah suffered martyrdom by being sawed asunder with a wooden saw during the reign of King Manasseh. The main political and social facts of Isaiah’s time may be summarized as follows:
1. During the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham the kingdom of Judah was wealthy and relatively powerful.
2. During the reign of Ahaz there occurred the Syro-Ephraimite war, one of the great events in Isaiah’s career, during which Judah was brought low because of the king’s decidedly baneful religious and political policies. (II Chron. 28:19; II Kings 16:10-16.)
3. During Hezekiah’s reign Isaiah saw the end of the Kingdom of Israel with the capture of Samaria by the Assyrians in 721 B.C., the religious reform of Hezekiah (II Kings 18:4, 22), and the constantly increasing pressure and power of Assyria which finally culminated in Judah’s being overrun by Sennacherib (701 B.C.). Jerusalem was saved, due, as we have already pointed out, to Isaiah’s good judgment. The Assyrian crisis was the greatest event in the long ministry of Isaiah.
4. During Isaiah’s time great wealth and extremes of poverty existed together. The poor were oppressed by the wealthy classes, religion was a hollow sham, idolatry increased in the land due to the influence of Assyrian colonists in Northern Israel, drunkenness and carousing prevailed, women were guilty of low standards of conduct, great moral laxity prevailed and judges and civic leaders failed to keep faith with the people. The terrible effects of war upon Judah were especially apparent toward the end of Isaiah’s ministry.
Isaiah’s Vision and Call to the Ministry. – God had said to Amos, years before this time:
“For the Lord God will do nothing,
but He revealeth His counsel unto His servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7.)
Near the end of King Uzziah’s reign the sin and pride of the people off Israel were such that they needed stern warning. Isaiah was the man chosen by God to receive “His counsel” and to deliver the message desired. One day – presumably in the temple – Isaiah was suddenly vouchsafed a vision:
“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.” (6:1.)
Round about seraphim cried one to another:
“Holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory.” (6:3.)
Isaiah in his humility thought of the unworthy state of himself and his people. He exclaimed:
“Woe is me! for I am undone;
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For mine eyes have seen the King,
The Lord of hosts.” (6:5.)
His sin was forgiven in symbol of which one of the seraphim touched his lips qwith a hot stone from the altar. Then he heard Jehovah say the words of 6:8-10.
Isaiah was commissioned and sent forth, but as the last passage implies, his message was to fall on deaf ears and unrepentant hearts. As the rest of the chapter points out, only disaster and exile could be the end of such a people though, to be sure, there would remain a little stock from which life would spring.
An Overview of Isaiah’s Prophecies.
1. Chapters 1-12, prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem, closing with promises of restoration and a psalm of thanksgiving.
2. Chapters 13-23, prophecies of judgment and salvation, for the most part concerning those foreign nations whose fortunes affected Judah and Jerusalem.
3. Chapters 24-27, Jehovah’s world-judgment, issuing in the redemption of Israel.
4. Chapters 28-35, a cycle of prophetic warnings against alliance with Egypt, closing with a prophecy concerning Edom and a promise of Israel’s ransom.
5. Chapters 36-39, history, prophecy, and song intermingled; serving both as an appendix to chapters 1-35, and as an introduction to chapters 40-66.
6. Chapters 40-66, prophecies of comfort, salvation, and of the future glory awaiting Israel.
The student who wishes better to appreciate Isaiah will do well to study carefully the above analysis of the book before making extensive readings in it.
The Great Arraignment. – Such is the title suggested by the famous German scholar Ewald for the first chapter of Isaiah. This chapter forms an excellent preface to the book because it contains a summary of certain characteristic and essential teachings of Isaiah. It is one of the finest specimens of prophetic oratory in the Old Testament. The student is strongly urged to read it through with care.
The preface takes the form of a court scene in which Jehovah appears to be plaintiff and judge, Israel the defendant, and Isaiah a bystander and interlocutor. The prophecy naturally falls into four sections.
1. Verses 1-9 contain the charge and appeal to the witnesses. Note the vigor of the opening lines in which Israel is accused of rebellion.
2. Verses 10-17 anticipate Israel’s preliminary objection to a charge. Note the allusion to Canaanite practices in the opening lines. This must have been bitterly received by Isaiah’s audience. Isaiah was a brave man to confront his people with such statements.
3. Verses 18-23 offer reconciliation to Israel on condition of repentance.
4. Verses 24-31 assume that Jehovah’s judgment will take place because His people will inevitably reject the gracious offer made to them.
They seem to be directed to the people as a whole. But Jehovah also seems to stress his remarks to a special class of sinners, probably among the higher classes, and speaks of their destruction. However, He makes clear that Israel shall be purged of her baser elements and will someday – presumably far in the future – be redeemed and restored. The doctrine of Israel’s redemption is emphasized throughout Isaiah and is one of the keys to the understanding of the book.
Professor G.L. Robinson has summed up the practical lessons of the chapter in the following words:
“The paramount lessons of the discourse are the too oft-forgotten facts that true religion is the prime condition of a healthy social order; that irreligion or formal ritual is a social vice; that no man liveth to himself; and that what a peasant or a prince believes is of public concern to all. All social evils are traceable ultimately to rebellion against God.”
The Mountain of the Lord’s House. – Isaiah saw clearly the wickedness and moral degeneration of his people, but as a seer he looked into the future and saw that in the latter days his people, the house of Jacob, would still be existent (probably a righteous remnant) and playing a glorious role in the world. (2:2, 3.) These verses give an exalted and idealized vision of Zion’s future. Isaiah sees a great commonwealth to which all nations gather to be governed by the God of Jacob. This great religious commonwealth is composed of the people of Israel who have returned to their God and who have forsaken the evil ways of their fathers. Through them God will teach the peoples of all nations who flock to hear His word. The word “mountain” in the phrase, “the mountain of the Lord’s house,” would seem to be nearly equivalent to “dwelling place” or “abode.” (See Ps. 68:16, 17; Isa. 8:18; 11:9.) But the picture is not complete. Isaiah sees in this glorious vision that there shall be no more war.
Isaiah and the Crime of War. – In the war-shattered world in which we live it seems strange to read Isaiah’s intensely idealistic and beautiful word picture of a world in which there is no war. And yet, it has been about 2650 years since the Hebrew prophet wrote the vision. We sometimes wonder how far human beings have progressed in that time. Let us examine Isaiah’s words as he continues the vision of which we have already read two verses. (2:4.)
Wars are bred because men and nations seem never to learn how to get along with each other. Selfishness and greed for power are still rampant in the world. In the midst of it all we are apt to conclude that Isaiah was an impractical dreamer. but was he? In the physical world we do not progress without much planning and toil. but in that field we are making progress. In the realm of the moral and spiritual can we likewise expect to progress without effort and without setting up goals and ideals? Isaiah knew as all men should know that war is a crime against humanity. he knew as few men have known before or since the weaknesses and failings of mankind. But in spite of that knowledge he boldly writes that some day war shall cease. He doesn’t argue the point. He writes as if it were certain of accomplishment. his faith is magnificent.
Speaking of the vision, Alexander R. Gordon has said:
“The insight of this prophecy is as deep as its outlook is broad. War may have its place in the Divine drama of history; but the end towards which all move is peace. God is a God of peace, who desires that His children should live and work together in peace. And the way of peace is no base surrender of justice, but the carrying of the claims to the highest court of appeal – the mind and purpose of God – which is identical with the arbitrament of sound reason, trust, and goodwill. ‘Peace on earth to men of goodwill.’ won by this motive, peace transforms the very instruments of war.” [A.R. Gordon, The Faith of Isaiah, p. 248. London, James Clark and Co., no date. By permission.]
In still another beautiful passage Isaiah refers to the conditions that shall ensue in the earth when war has ceased and peace and happiness reign. (11:6-9, cf. Rom. 8:18-22.)
In Chapter 2:2-4 we read the description of peace among men and nations; in these verses we have a description of peace as it will then exist among the brute creation, – And a little child shall lead them.
Note Isaiah’s reference to knowledge. The narrow and particularistic has no place in it. He looked forward to the day when the knowledge of God should be over the earth as a sea covers the land. His statement is one of the glories of the Old Testament.
The Recovery of the Remnant of Israel. – We have already seen how Isaiah’s vision encompassed a glorious future of man and nature in which the arts of peace should be practiced. In the picture which Isaiah draws for us he sees the house of Jacob in a glorious position.
But the prophet also foresees Israel’s dispersion among the nations. In order for Israel to be effective in teaching these nations she must be gathered, instructed, and prepared for her mission. The glorious age of peace cannot be ushered in until the chosen remnant has been gathered, prepared, and sent forth with the message of the god of Israel. Isaiah would not forget God’s promise to Abraham that all the nations of the earth should be blessed in him. (11:11-13.)
In verses 14-016 Isaiah shows that Israel’s enemies shall be overcome and that by a miracle a great highway shall be made for the remnant of his people like as there was when they came up out of Egypt.
So important is Isaiah 11 that Moroni quoted the whole of it to Joseph Smith on his first appearance to him.
Isaiah and Predictions of the Coming of the Messiah. – The Christian Church has held through the ages that Isaiah foresaw the coming of the Christ. The New Testament writers themselves saw in Christ’s birth and life the fulfilment of certain of Isaiah’s prophecies. We shall, therefore, examine a number of the latter.
In Isa. 7:14 there is the famous “Immanuel” passage.
“Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a song, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Compare with Matt. 1:21-23.)
There can be little doubt that the early Christians viewed this prophecy of Isaiah’s as being fulfilled in Christ and His mother. This may be correct, but a careful examination of the context of the verse will reveal many difficulties and scholars have been at their wits’ end to explain them. Our readers ought to examine carefully the relevant passages for themselves.
Isa. 9:1, 2 has been claimed to have been fulfilled by Christ. The Gospel of Matthew also refers to these verses (Matt. 2:13, 14. See also verses 15 and 16.)
Strange as it may seem the famous passage in Isa. 9:6-7 is apparently not referred to in the New Testament. This scripture will be remembered by music-lovers for the use made of it in Handel’s Messiah. Many persons have either denied the passage to Isaiah or have denied its application to the Christ, nevertheless, it is not likely that the masses of Christian people will do so.
We should be remiss if we made no reference to Isa. 53. In it most Christian people through the ages have seen prophetically portrayed the sufferings and sorrows of the Christ. The beauty and musical quality of the authorized version in part make up for the few places where the translation could have been improved in this chapter.
Practically the whole of Isa. 53 has been reproduced in the New Testament and applied to the Christ. This is a remarkable tribute to Isaiah’s prophecy.
Part of the chapter is also used in Handel’s Messiah. it will be remembered that the second part of his oratorio opens with Isa. 53:3. The story is told that at this point in the writing of the composition he was found with his head upon a table, weeping.
Prophecies of Israel’s Redemption. – The general theme of Isa. 40-66 is Israel’s redemption. These chapters are to be accounted the most brilliant jewels of Old Testament prophetic literature. In masterful and beautiful language Isaiah comforts his people and points to the time when they shall be redeemed and God’s kingdom shall triumph over the earth. his first words form the beginning of Handel’s Messiah, so much loved by cultured people.
“Comfort ye, comfort ye My people,
Saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,
And cry unto her,
That her warfare is accomplished,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
That she hath received of the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.” (409:1.)
This passage has no reference at all to Israel’s deliverance from the Babylonian Captivity as many have supposed, but applies to a day far more distant than that, to the latter days, to the time spoken of previously in Isa. 2:2-4. Isaiah has in mind the period at and just preceding the time when peace shall come to man and the brute creation. (See Isa. 11:6-9.) He sees that after Israel has paid the penalty for her sins God will again choose her and remember His promise to Abraham. (41:8-10; note also 42:1-9.)
He then goes on to show that Israel’s enemies shall come to nought and that God’s sons and daughters shall return from the end of the earth. (41:12; 43:6.)
Then taking a look a little nearer his own time he sees the Babylonian Empire fall, describes the makers of idols and scorns them, then reverts to the scenes of redemption again. (43:14; 44:9-20, 22, 23.)
Isaiah then proceeds to take note of Israel’s release from the Babylonian Captivity, even so far as to mention the Persian king, Cyrus, who is to be her deliverer. (44:28-45:13.) Chapter 47 is a wonderful poem depicting Babylon’s fall and abject humiliation.
The reader’s attention is especially called to the four famous “Servant Songs” in which Isaiah seems to personify righteous Israel or else refers to some unique Person in Israel. These songs are as follows:
“1. chapter 42:1-9. The Servant’s world-wide mission and gentle manner.
“2. Chapter 49:1-13. The Servant’s mission and spiritual success; followed by promises of comfort to Zion. (49:14-50:3.)
“3. Chapter 40:4-11. The Servant’s soliloquy concerning his perfect through suffering: followed again by messages of comfort and encouragement to the believers in Zion. (51:1-52;12.)
“4. Chapters 52:13-53:12. The Servant’s vicarious suffering and ultimate exaltation; followed by a vivid description of Zion’s future prosperity and glory (chapter 54), and an urgent invitation to men immersed in business to accept of God’s proffered salvation (chapter 55): even proselytes and eunuchs being allowed to share in the blessings of redemption (56:1-8); the section closing with a scathing rebuke to faithless shepherds and sensual idolaters. (56:9-57:21.)” [Adapted from G.L. Robinson, The Book of Isaiah (First Edition), p. 141f. New York, Young Men’s Christian Association Press, 1910.]
In Chapter 60 Isaiah draws a graphic and beautiful picture of the future Zion. Note especially verses 1-3.
Finally Isaiah sees the climax of God’s work and His triumph over wickedness in the earth. (65:17-19.)
Truly “great are the words of Isaiah.” (II Nephi 23:1.) He was a spiritual giant whose vision and intellect transcend that of ordinary men as the mountain peak overshadows the hills. His voice will continue to ring down through the centuries and bring joy and happiness to those whose hearts and spirits are attuned to the same spiritual rock as his.