The Prophet Isaiah
February 9th, 1975 @ 10:50 AM
THE PROPHET ISAIAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-9-75 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you to our First Baptist Church morning hour, you who share it with us over radio and television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Vision of Isaiah, the Prophet Isaiah, or as Martin Thorner says, “I-ZYE-ah,” a good English boy pronouncing it in a good English way.
I one time began at Genesis and preached to the end of the Revelation, over a period of seventeen years and eight months. Where I left off Sunday morning, I began Sunday night and so continued throughout the whole Bible. I was asked when I came to the end of the Revelation, “What now will you preach?” And I said, “For years it has been in my heart to go back to some of the books in the Bible through which we passed so hastily and briefly, and in-depth to study it and prepare sermons and messages out of that deeper study.”
So that is what I have been doing since that day of preaching through the Bible. I preached through the Book of Daniel, and there were four volumes of messages published from that study that I made in Daniel. And just now, just recently, I have finished preaching through the catholic, the general epistles: James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude. But the great dream of my heart for all of the years has been that the day would come when I felt that I could try to attempt to preach through the Book of Isaiah. It is a stupendous assignment. It is like standing before the whole creation of God, and what do you do but in wonder and in amazement look upon it?
The preacher is always attempting the impossible. That is the nature of his office. It is the necessity that is laid upon him. And this is an instance before us now. How could one be equal to so vast an assignment, such heights to scale and such depths of profundity to understand? But God has called us for the purpose, and it is only He that can make us sufficient and equal for it.
When we begin our study of Isaiah—which will be the first and introductory message this morning—we are first of all astonished, surprised at how little we know of the man himself. Then looking at that even more closely, we discover that the earth knows little about any of it’s really great men.
We think of the myriad-minded Shakespeare, the greatest genius that the English-speaking world has ever produced. But when you begin your study of Shakespeare, you find that you don’t even know how to spell his name. There is altercation and discussion and contradiction about how even he spelled his name. There are great scholars who deny even that he ever lived. There are some of them who attribute his dramas to Christopher Marlowe. There are others who say Francis Bacon wrote them. We know practically nothing of the great genius Shakespeare.
We know even less of Dante, the incomparable poet of the Italian language and the Italian world. And we know absolutely nothing for certain about the greatest poet of the ancient world, named Homer—don’t even know where he was born; don’t even know how he lived his life, or how he came to write what he did. Isn’t that an amazing and astonishing thing how little we know of our greatest men?
So it is with the prophets. When we look through the Scriptures, we find portraits and delineations and presentations of a great character like Abraham or Jacob/Israel or Joseph, but when we speak of the prophets—an Amos, a Hosea, and an Isaiah—we know practically nothing about them. There must be some reason for that, and it could be this: in the providence and purpose of God, the Lord hid away the man in the mist; He shrouded his form and figure. He delineated little of his curriculums and circumstance in order that the voice might be heard. It is the word of God to which we are to listen and not to behold the man who delivered it.
Thus Isaiah: but what little we know about him is unusually significant, and that little is presented in the message today. First: he was a man of the city. He was an urbanite. All of his life did he live in the city. He was born in the city. He labored in the city. He loved the city. His long ministry of possibly over fifty years was spent, expended, in the city, possibly from about 750 BC to 700 BC. The court preacher Isaiah delivered his prophecies and his messages in the city. His figures and his references and his great poetic imagery is drawn from urban life.
Amos is a man of the country. He smells of a fresh-turned furrow in the soil. His figures of speech are from the field and the flock. But the figures of speech that we read in Isaiah are taken from city life. He was the court preacher, the city minister. He is the first in a long line of famous, urban city preachers—a Jeremiah of Anathoth and Jerusalem, a Paul of Ephesus and Corinth and Rome, an Ignatius of Antioch, a John Chrysostom of Constantinople, a Savonarola of Florence, a John Calvin of Geneva, or a John Knox of Edinburgh, or a Spurgeon of London, or a Brooks, a Phillips Brooks of Boston, or a T. DeWitt Talmage of Brooklyn, or a Dwight L. Moody of Chicago, or a George W. Truett of Dallas.
Isaiah was the first of a great, mighty line of city preachers. He was a man of unusual cultivation and culture. He was an aristocrat in birth, in bearing, and in speech. There are traditions that say that his father, Amoz, (spelling) A-m-o-z, was a brother of Amaziah the king, who was the father of Uzziah the king. In that event, Isaiah was a first cousin of Uzziah the king. Possibly that could explain why in the sixth chapter of the prophecy, when he sees the great vision in the days of the death of King Uzziah, why the young man was so deeply stricken and grieved.
He is at home in the highest circles of government. He has ready access to the king. He knows the priesthood intimately, and he no less is conversant with the life of the upper classes. He moves with grace and understanding among the great and the sovereign and the leaders of the land.
He grew up in a day of affluence and prosperity. King Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel, of the northern kingdom, brought their people to their highest heights of economic and political prosperity. They rivaled the power and glory of the united kingdom under David and Solomon. And, of course, attendant to the affluence and riches and power of the nation, there were the vices that inevitably accompany it, and Isaiah lived to see the degeneration and the degradation of the people, the nation.
When I read the book and look at the background against which he lived, I think of America. How great God has made our people. With what affluence and wealth has He blessed us, and yet the very source of our degeneration, and promiscuity, and violence, and rebellion lies in our riches and our wealth. I doubt whether there is a knowledgeable man today but who would say one of the things that is wrong with the young in our generation is that they have never known anything but abundance and wealth.
So it was in the days of Isaiah. He lived to see their wealth plundered and their affluence used as a means of the decimation and degeneration of the people. As such, Isaiah walked around dressed in a garment of haircloth like Elijah and like John the Baptist, calling the people back to God and to repentance. As such, for three years Isaiah walked through the streets of the city of Jerusalem naked except for a loincloth, that is, dressed like a slave—barefoot, unclothed—that he might demonstrate the prophecy of the word of God of a coming servitude and captivity [Isaiah 20:2-6].
The very family of Isaiah was a part of his message and prophetic ministry to the people. He referred to his wife as the prophetess, a word of endearment [Isaiah 8:3]. Not that she delivered oracles from God, but like you might say, “Mrs. Pastor,” or “Mrs. Preacher,” he referred to her as the prophetess.
And his sons who were born, two of them named, his sons are themselves messengers of the prophecy that he delivered. For example, his first son he named Shear-jashub, Shear-jashub. That is, “a remnant shall return.” When the judgment of God falls upon the nation and the people, God will spare a small remnant. And he named his first son and took him with him to meet Ahaz the king [Isaiah 7:3]. That boy was named as a part of the prophecy of the man of God.
He had one other son. “And the Lord said to me, ‘Call his name Maher-shalal-hashbaz’“ [Isaiah 8:3]. Why under heaven would a man name his boy Maher-shalal-hashbaz? Call him “Hash” for short, I suppose. The word means “hastening to the prey, speeding to the spoil,” and it was a prophecy of the coming of the bitter and hasty Assyrian who would destroy the Northern Kingdom and destroy the cities of Judah, shut up Hezekiah and Jerusalem as in an iron vise and would have destroyed them had it not been for the intercession of righteous, good King Hezekiah. Thus the family of Isaiah was itself a part of the prophetic ministry of the man of God.
How did he die? Universal tradition is that he was sawn asunder. In Hebrews 11:37 there is a mention of a hero of faith who was sawn asunder. Universally, tradition says that is Isaiah. The Mishnah, a part of the Jewish Talmud, says that Isaiah was martyred. He was slain by the wicked king Manasseh. Justin Martyr speaks of Isaiah being sawn asunder with a wooden saw. In about 150 AD, there was a Jewish apocalypse entitled “The Assumption of Isaiah,” and his martyrdom by being sawn in twain is told in that apocalypse. It is no less recounted in the lives of the prophets by Epiphanius. All through the long tradition of the death of Isaiah, it is always that, by wicked Manasseh, he was sawn asunder.
The man was, in himself, the greatest poetic inspired genius that the world has ever known. Compared to Isaiah, a Homer or a Dante or a Shakespeare is a pygmy. There are hardly limits to the poetical sublimity that this man reaches as he declares the message of Almighty God. He is an artist with words. He is a master with language. He is an orator far beyond a Demosthenes. His periods, and his perorations, and his descriptions, and his poetic imagery are sublime, celestially so, in the highest! He uses every form of poetic speech: alliteration, parable, interrogation, dialogue, metaphor, simile, paronomasia, a play upon words. He rises to heights of poetry beyond what you could think human speech could dare. In a version of the Bible other than the King James, you will see that most of his prophecy is in beautiful poetic form, rhythm, figure, imagery, style.
He has a rich vocabulary beyond any other who ever spoke in the Word of God. For example, in Ezekiel there are 1535 different words; in Jeremiah, 1653 different words; in all of the Psalms, 2,170 different words; but in Isaiah alone, that one prophet uses 2,186 different words. His language, his figures of speech, his poetic genius are raised by inspiration to a divine and celestial fire.
No wonder when you visit Jerusalem there is a beautiful monument called The Shrine of the Book. What book? The Shrine of the Book. When you go inside the dome and look, it is a book of the prophet Isaiah, fourteen feet long parchment written by the Essenes in about 150 BC; the burning words, the beautiful words, the seraphic words of the great prophet Isaiah.
He was the evangelical messenger of the Old Testament. He is the apostle Paul of the Old Covenant. He is the man who stands alone and proclaims the glorious gospel of the grace of the Son of God before the gospel itself. His name means “the Lord our salvation.” His theme is justification by faith, saved by trusting God alone, and his message is delivered in beautiful evangelical form and language. It is as though the prophet Isaiah stood in the shadow of the Son of God as He walked through Galilee, and Judea, and Perea, and finally to Calvary. He is a man of the life and ministry and saving message of the divine Redeemer.
If a minister stands in the pulpit to preach a sermon at Christmas time, it can be from Isaiah: “Born of a virgin, whose name shall be Immanuel: God with us” [Isaiah 7:14]. If a man stands to preach his message on Good Friday, the Suffering Servant who died for our sins, his message could be from Isaiah 53: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” [Isaiah 53:5]. If the pastor delivers his lectures on Wednesday night on the theology of atonement, he will use as a background the great prophetic word of the prophet Isaiah: “God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied…” [Isaiah 53:11].
And if a man stands in the name of God to proclaim the golden age that is yet to come, he can use as the background of his message the glorious visions of the prophet Isaiah, who saw new heavens and a new earth, and who, beyond the grave, cried, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55; Isaiah 25:8].
He is the great prophet of the millennium. He is the messianic messenger of the Old Covenant. Isaiah, in sublime form and in poetic imagery, pictures by heavenly revelation the millennial golden age that is yet to come. Herein is an astonishing thing, for all of the ancient philosophers and poets spoke of the golden age as being past, long since gone away.
Plato, for example, will describe the golden age of mankind in the form and in the context and in the place of an island named Atlantis, which was located beyond the gates of Hercules, beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, in the vast expanse of the Atlantic ocean, and which now is submerged, the continent Atlantis. And in the civilization and life of the people who lived on that continent of the long ago, Plato found the golden age of mankind long since past.
Every ancient poet of the Greco-Roman world spoke of the golden age as being a time of innocency and bliss in the story of mankind long, long ago. But Isaiah lifted up his voice, and in words inspired from God in heaven, he described the golden age as yet to come; the millennial age in which God shall come down, when the sky shall be rent asunder, and the Prince of glory shall reign in person upon this wicked and stolid earth, cleansed and purified, now the place of beauty and holiness and righteousness. And as Isaiah, the prophet of God, describes that beautiful millennial and golden age that is yet to come, he says it will be inherited by a remnant [Isaiah 10:20-22; 11:11,16], and one of the messages that I have prepared will be entitled “The Doctrine of the Remnant.”
“Not all will be saved,” says Isaiah. “Not all will come to a knowledge of the truth,” says Isaiah. “Not all will enter into the kingdom,” says Isaiah, “but there will be some.” Some will be saved. Some will turn in faith to the Lord. Some will be plucked out of the burning, and that holy remnant shall be called the people of the Lord [Isaiah 11:11, 16].
Isaiah the prophet says they shall have a King over them. He will be of the line of David. He will come of the stock of the root of Jesse. He will be born of a virgin, says the prophet [Isaiah 7:14]. He will be endued and empowered and filled with the Holy Spirit of God, and He will reign in beauty and in justice and in righteousness [Isaiah 4:2].
The spirit and the imagery of that coming messianic millennial kingdom is found all through the Word of God. It is found in the protevangelium in Genesis, the Seed of the woman [Genesis 3:15]. As the days passed, its rising glory is increasingly seen in Moses and in David and in Solomon. But it is only when we come to Isaiah that we see the beauty of His person, the express image of His glory, and the marvelous, incomparable kingdom over which someday He shall rule and reign.
I close—what shall I think in my heart and my mind? What shall I think about these glorious prophecies of Isaiah? Can I believe them? Will this dull and stolid earth ever see anything so glorious as the majestic King, the Messiah of the millennial reign come down? Will my eyes ever look upon the Redeemer? Will I ever share in that ultimate and final kingdom? If I lie in the dust of the ground, will I also feel the stirrings of a resurrection, a quickening of a new life spoken into immortality and glory? [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17] Could such a thing ever be? Could it happen to you, to us? Could it?
All that I have to go on is this. The same prophet who speaks of the marvelous millennial coming of our Lord is the same prophet who described in minute terms His first coming, His birth in the womb of a virgin, His ministry among people who sat in darkness and in the region of death, His kindliness in healing the sick, in ministering to the poor [Isaiah 9:2, 61:1-3]. The same prophet who, as clearly as if he stood on Calvary that awful day, describes the suffering and the atoning death of the Son of God [Isaiah 53:1-12], it is that same prophet who described in glorious terms and in minutest detail the first coming of our Lord. It is the same prophet who describes the glorious return of that same Redeemer/Messiah in wonder, in holiness, in power, and in beauty [Isaiah 40:1-31].
If I can believe that Isaiah described the first coming of our Lord seven hundred fifty years before He walked the face of this earth in the days of His flesh, can I not also believe that the same prophet no less saw by divine inspiration the coming again, the returning King who shall set up His millennial kingdom in this earth, and His subjects shall be those who love and worship and believe in the Lord?
Oh, with what anticipation, with what optimism should a Christian, a child of God, lift up his face waiting for the great dawning of our final, millennial redemption? When we preach through the prophet Isaiah, you will find always in the description of destruction and despair, the next breath he’s speaking of the glory of the coming of the Lord.
In the midst of death, and disease, and loss, and the hopelessness of people who have no other choice but to face slavery and captivity, in the next moment he’s speaking, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people. Yea, speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem” [Isaiah 40:1-2], and then will describe the glories of the kingdom yet to come and avow it: “and all flesh shall see it together” [Isaiah 40:5]. You, I, we—and the superlative language in which he describes that millennial kingdom is treasured in our hearts by promise, forever—”When there shall grow a root out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch from that cut down stump; when He shall come who shall judge the earth in righteousness and in justice, and when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and when the lion shall eat straw like an ox, when they shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain, and when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea; when God creates new heavens and a new earth and He shall reign whose name is the Lord our righteousness [Isaiah 11:1-11]. Oh, that God would give me the eloquence of a seraph and the burning imagery of a cherub as we enter the Holy of Holies of the divine visions that open for us the vistas of the millennial kingdom of God, what the Lord has prepared for us who love Him!
Our time is spent! As we stand in a moment to sing our hymn of invitation and appeal, thus to give your heart to God our Savior, thus to join with us in the highway to heaven, the holy pilgrimage to the land that is yet to come, thus to receive Jesus as the Savior of your life and the hope of your soul, or to put your life into the fellowship of the family of the people of God, as the Spirit of Christ shall press the invitation to your heart, respond with your life. “Here I come pastor, here I am. I make it now, I’m on the way,” while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-9-75I. A man of the city
A. All of his life and ministry was in the city
B. Figures, references, imagery drawn from urban lifeII. A man of culture
A. He was an aristocrat
B. Grew up in an era of affluence
C. Prophesied and lived to see decimation and captivity of the people
D. His family a part of his prophetic ministry
E. Tradition says he died a martyrIII. An inspired genius
A. A master of language
B. A rich vocabulary beyond any other in BibleIV. An evangelical prophet of the gospel
A. His theme is justification by faithV. A prophet of the millennium
A. Unlike other ancient writers, he spoke of golden age to come
B. The doctrine of the remnant