The Book of Isaiah is famous for its rich, metaphorical language.
Isaiah ben Amoz was a prophet during the reigns of the Judean kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. The inhabitants of Judah, unlike those of the Northern Kingdom, had generally maintained the religion of their forefathers. However, they too had their share of idolatrous kings, such as Ahaz, who was considered to be so wicked that he was not permitted to be buried in the royal sepulcher.
Following the literal letter of the law is not enough, declared Isaiah. The wealthy of Judah had become indolent and cruel, and therefore social injustice was rampant throughout the kingdom. Lashing out at these injustices, Isaiah said: “What need have I of all your sacrifices? … Put your evil doings away from my sight … Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow” – 1:11-17. Idol worship was practiced alongside Judaism, and the nation depended on foreign kingdoms for protection rather than placing their faith in God.
Isaiah was also an advisor to King Hezekiah and told him that God would protect him from Sennacherib (the Assyrian King), whose army had surrounded the walls of Jerusalem. The Assyrians were subsequently struck by an overnight plague and those that did not die, fled. (The Destruction of Sennacherib, by Lord Byron)
Isaiah foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and begged the people to repent. He also saw that the people would eventually be redeemed. “Be comforted, Be comforted, my People” (40:1), begins Isaiah’s prophecy of the people’s eventual deliverance from the oppression of Babylon and the restoration of the People of Israel to the Promised Land.
Isaiah also contains extensive prophecies concerning the Messiah and the Messianic kingdom, an era of true peace, when “They shall beat their swords into plowshares … nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (2:4) and “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb” (11:6). This period of peace will also be a time when Israel will be ascendant and will be seen as “a light unto the nations” (42:6).
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