An Overview of the Book of Isaiah
It was a time of material prosperity and of spiritual indifference. It was a time of social inequity and injustice. Great wealth existed side by side with extreme poverty. It was a time of political divisiveness and moral weakness; a time when pride had blinded the minds of leaders, and religion was just a thin veneer over a self-centered life. I could be talking about the twenty-first century, but I’m actually talking about the eighth century BC.
The words of the French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr are true—”the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We’re not experiencing anything new, my friends.
The Message of the Book of Isaiah
In the situation of the people in the eighth century, God sent a prophet with a message, and the message was that there’s only one solution when the world around you seems to be crumbling; when you don’t know who to trust. That message is in Isaiah chapter 40, and it’s three words: behold your God.
You see, God alone is changeless, timeless, and ageless. God alone is unimpeachable, unassailable, undebatable, irreproachable, and impeccable—in all of his ways. So, he alone is worthy of our worship and of our trust and worthy of our loyalty. When we know God, we can be secure no matter what storms are raging around us in life.
Now, the name of the prophet I’m referring to is Isaiah. It’s a name that means “God is salvation.” As we consider this prophet and the biblical book he wrote, I want to give you an overview of the book of Isaiah. Think of it as a way to whet your appetite for future studies in the book of Isaiah.
An Overview of the Book of Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah is a literary masterpiece. It’s one of the most significant, most beautiful, and most profound pieces of religious literature ever written. Isaiah uses rich vocabulary, brilliant imagery, beautiful poetry, striking metaphors, and arresting dialogue.
Theologically, Isaiah is the deepest book of the Old Testament. It’s Christology—a word used to describe the study of Christ and his life—is the best developed of all the Old Testament books. In fact, it’s been called the Romans of the Old Testament. And, fun fact, the book of Isaiah actually parallels the entire Bible because the first thirty-nine chapters speak mainly about Israel and the judgment of God. Yet, the following twenty-seven chapters speak mainly about Christ and his coming kingdom.
The overarching theme of the book of Isaiah is that, in a world gone amok, we have a God that we can trust—a God who is an anchor for our souls. And who better to explain that God to us than a man who saw him—in Isaiah 6:1, the prophet writes: “I saw the Lord.”
4 Themes of the Book of Isaiah
To break down this overview of the book of Isaiah, I want to share four themes that are woven throughout this book. These themes are a little food for our souls
Theme 1: The Supremacy of God
The first theme of the book of Isaiah is the supremacy of God.
God is high; the highest overall. He rules history. He is the marionette master who is manipulating everything according to his plan and his purpose. This rule is ultimately to bring glory to his name.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew” (Isa. 6:1-2).
“For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another” (Isa. 48:6, emphasis added).
See, God is absolutely transcendent. He is utterly without comparison. He is the Holy One of Israel. He is controlling everything that happens, to the extent that twice he gives us the name of the Persian ruler who is going to allow Israel to return from their captivity in Babylon. Why is that important? Because God gives the name of this leader before Israel even went away into captivity in Babylon. Two hundred years before Cyrus the Great comes on the scene, God gives us Cyrus’ name.
And this is what God says about Cyrus: He is my shepherd, a pagan king. He shall fulfill all my purpose. Friends, we don’t need to worry which rulers are on the thrones of this world, because God is on the highest throne of all. God is supreme.
Theme 2: The Punishment of God
The second theme of the book of Isaiah is the punishment of God. Now, these are the chapters we don’t like so much. Yet, they’re here. See, it’s clear that God’s people (Israel) have rebelled. Because he is supreme (theme one of the book of Isaiah), God intends to do something about this rebellion.
Just listen to these words from chapter one:
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? (Isa. 1:1-5a).
The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint from the soul of the foot, even to the head. There is no soundness to it but bruises and sores and raw wounds. You see, God disciplines his people for their sin because he wants to create a holy people that can enjoy life through fellowship with Him. And God also gains great glory by punishing wicked nations.
Theme 3: The Redemption of God
The third theme we see in the book of Isaiah is that of the redemption of God. This judging, this punishing, this terrifying God is also a God who loves his people and wants to redeem them.
And what an amazing message this is. He is tender. He wants to cleanse us from our guilt, and he wants to cure us from our sin. Listen to these words from Isaiah 43:
But now, thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior. Because you are precious in my eyes and honored, I love you.”
And then these amazing words from chapter 62:
“You shall no more be termed forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed desolate, but you shall be called my delight is in her, for the Lord delights in you” (v. 4).
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. That’s how much God loves us, like a groom loves a bride.
But to provide redemption, a redeemer is needed. Now he’s mentioned in the first half of the book (Isa. 7:14). There, we read that a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel. But the fullest picture of this Messiah isn’t until the second half of the book.
There, in the second half of Isaiah, we get the clearest picture in all of prophetic literature about this coming redeemer called the Messiah. In fact, there are four servant songs in the second half of the book that speak directly prophetically about Jesus, and they culminate in what is the favorite chapter of Isaiah for many of us: Isaiah 53. One highlight verse from that chapter shares, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed, for our iniquities upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
The Redeemer was coming. That is what Isaiah was saying.
Theme 4: The Restoration of God
The fourth theme is the restoration of God. Yes, God’s people will be punished for their sins, but in due time, God is going to bring them back to their land from their exile. And he’s going to restore them. He will comfort his people and end their warfare, he says.
And God’s restoration is far more global than just restoring the Jews back to himself. I hope you know that. Isaiah 2 explains:
It shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the Hills, and all the nations shall flow to it. And this prophecy of Jesus and the second servant song, it is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserve of Israel. I will make you as a light for the nations, that my Salvation may reach to the ends of the Earth.
Applying an Overview of Isaiah to Modern-Day Life
God’s restoration extends into the future, to a day when “the government shall be upon his shoulder and of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end…to establish and to uphold it with justice and righteousness forevermore.”
Ultimately, he will establish the new heavens and a new earth, and his restoration will be complete. The former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. In that, we can be glad and rejoice forever. In a world of confusion and division, of conflict and uncertainty, of secularization and mistrust: Where do we go? We go to our Redeemer.