The Prophet Isaiah
February 9th, 1975 @ 8:15 AM
THE PROPHET ISAIAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-9-75 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who share this service with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message, the first in a long series. How long it shall be lies in the providence of God. Do you remember when I preached through the Bible, continuing from Genesis to Revelation, for a period of seventeen years and eight months? And when the series was through, finished, people asked me, “What will you do now?” And the answer was formed in my mind years before: “What I hoped to do,” I said, “was to go back through some of those books that we spent so briefly and shortly a time in expounding, and I would like to go back to some of those books, really to study them, deeply, profoundly, earnestly.” Such as, and I preached through Daniel, I wanted to go through Daniel; and they published four books of the messages that were delivered in Daniel. I have just finished preaching through the catholic epistles, the general epistles: James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1 and 2 and 3 John, and Jude. Now the book above all books that I wanted to study and to preach, to expound, was, is, the Book of Isaiah. I have been all of these years looking forward toward this present moment. How does one find himself equal to the exposition of such a vast, profound, deep, heavenly book like Isaiah? But the preacher is always attempting the impossible. It is the nature of his office; necessity is laid upon him to attempt it. And thus we try. It is like standing before the whole vast creation of God, and the whole revelation of the Lord in heaven and in earth, this mighty prophecy of Isaiah.
“The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem… Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth” [Isaiah 1:1-2]: thus he begins his delivery of the vast word from the Lord. This morning we shall look, this first introductory sermon, we shall look at the man himself: The Prophet Isaiah. It will be astonishing at how little is known about the man personally. And isn’t that an astonishing thing about the great of the earth through the generations and the centuries? There is so little actually known about them. The myriad-minded Shakespeare: wouldn’t you think there would be volumes to be studied and to be written about the life of the greatest literary genius the English speaking nations have ever known? When you seek to study Shakespeare himself, you’ll not even know how to spell his name. And there are many who deny that he ever lived. There are scholars who attribute his plays, his dramas, to a Christopher Marlowe or to a Francis Bacon. You’d think there’d be volumes to study about Shakespeare; there is practically nothing known about his life. Or a Dante, the incomparable poet of the Italian language; there’s practically nothing known about him personally. Or, the greatest poet of antiquity, Homer; there is doubtless not anything that is positively known about Homer. When we look at the Holy Scriptures, there will be portraits and passages presenting in full detail an Abraham, a Jacob, a Joseph, but hardly anything of the great prophets of God, an Amos, a Hosea, an Isaiah. Why is that? I have a humble possible answer to present. I think God is saying, “Listen to the word of the Lord,” not, “Look at the man himself”; he is a voice, an echo. And God shrouds the prophet in mist, his figure and his personality are hidden away. The circle and circumstance in which he lived and moved is largely shadowed and veiled, that we might listen to the word of the Lord and not be confounded by the personality of the man himself.
But what we do know is highly significant, and thus we begin our study with what is known of Isaiah the prophet himself. First, he is a city man; he is a city preacher. He is a court minister. And his life of activity and delivery of the word of God extends for half a century; in round numbers, from about 750 BC to about 700 BC. He was born in the city. He lived all of his life in the city. He loved the city. He preached in the city. He delivered God’s word in the city. Amos is a country preacher, his words smell of the soil of the fresh turned furrow. He is at home with the field and the flock, and his similes and metaphors are from the great outdoors. Not Isaiah: he is an urbanite, and his figures of speech come out of the city. Isaiah is the first of the great line of city preachers who have shaped and molded the thought of the world. Isaiah, Jeremiah of Anathoth and Jerusalem, the apostle Paul of Ephesus and Corinth and Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, John Chrysostom of Constantinople, Savonarola of Florence, John Calvin of Geneva, John Knox of Edinburgh, Spurgeon of London, Brooks of Boston, Dwight L. Moody of Chicago, Truett of Dallas; Isaiah is the first in a long series of city preachers.
He was a man of great culture and cultivation. He moved with ease in the upper circles of government and urban life. Tradition says that his father, Amoz, A-m-o-z, that his father Amoz was a brother to Amaziah the king and the father of Uzziah the king. That would make Isaiah a first cousin of the great Uzziah. That may be the reason why the young man was so moved in the sixth chapter of his prophecy, “In the year of the death of King Uzziah” [Isaiah 6:1]. He is at home in the court. He has ready access to the king. He is intimate with the priests, and he knows in every detail the life of the upper classes. He is a man of aristocratic birth and bearing. He grew up in the days of dizzy influence and power in the kingdom of Judah. Under Uzziah of the Southern Kingdom, and under Jeroboam II of the Northern Kingdom, the Jewish people, the family of God, reached its greatest power and influence, like it was in the days of the united kingdom under David and Solomon. So Isaiah, as a young man, grew up in the days of great prosperity and power, and, of course, was sensitive to the vices that always accompany power and riches and affluence.
He lived to see the great turning in the life of the people from one of affluence and power to one of degradation and collapse and catastrophe. Isaiah dressed, in those days of judgment, in a garment made of haircloth, like an Elijah and like a John the Baptist, calling the people to repentance. Isn’t it an unusual but everlastingly true thing that riches and power and affluence are always accompanied by inward disintegration? I see that in the life of America today. The same thing that happened to Judah under Uzziah and then Ahaz I find happening in the life of modern American society. You ask these psychologists what has happened to the youth of America, and they say, “They are children of affluence; therefore are they filled with ideas of rebellion and promiscuity and sometimes violence.” What a strange come to pass in human nature: that out of God’s blessings upon a nation and God’s favor upon a people should come such inward moral disintegration. So lived the prophet Isaiah. And for three years he walked through the streets of Jerusalem naked [Isaiah 20:2-3], except for a loincloth, that is, dressed like a slave, barefoot, unclothed, a sign of the coming slavery and captivity of the people.
Isaiah’s whole life was one of the prophetic. His family life was that. He refers to his wife as “the prophetess” [Isaiah 8:3], a term of endearment, not that she delivered oracles from the Lord. And his two sons were named according to the prophecy of the word of God. His firstborn was called Shear-jashub; that is, “A Remnant Shall Return” [Isaiah 7:3]. When God devastates the nation and the people, there will be a remnant that will be precious in His sight [Isaiah 1:9; Romans 9:29]. And he named his son that word, “A Remnant Shall Return,” Shear-jashub, “a remnant shall come back.” And he named his second son one of the most unusual names in the Bible, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Wouldn’t you like to have a boy named that? Maybe they called him “Hash” for short. “Then said the Lord to me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz” [Isaiah 8:3]; that is, “A hastening to the prey,” a sign of the coming of the bitter and hasty Assyrian [Habakkuk 1:6], “a hastening to the prey,” the ravenous, lustful, destructive power of the bitter Assyrian.
The death of Isaiah is in tradition. In Hebrews 11:37, there is a reference to a hero of faith who was sawn asunder. All tradition says that describes the great prophet Isaiah. The Jewish Talmud, the Mishnah, says that Manasseh, the evil king Manasseh slew him. Justin Martyr refers to the martyrdom of Isaiah, saying he was “sawn asunder with a wooden saw.” There is an apocalypse, a Jewish apocalypse written in the second century AD called The Assumption of Isaiah, and in that is described the martyrdom of Isaiah, “sawn asunder, sawn in the midst with a saw.” Epiphanius, in his Lives of the Prophets describes the same kind of a martyrdom. It seems almost certainly that back of that universal tradition should be some kind of a tragic death that faced this mighty man of God in the days of the wicked Manasseh.
He was a man of unbelievable gift and genius. The book that he writes is the profoundest in all literature. Compared to the inspired flights of word, and language, and period, and peroration, and oration of Isaiah, men like Demosthenes and Shakespeare are pygmies. He is a master in words and in poetic form and flights of oratory. He is an artist in nomenclature and in language. Hyperbole, parable, epigram, antithesis, interrogation, dialogue, metaphor, simile, paronomasia, play on words—there is no man in human literature that rivals the mighty Isaiah. No wonder in the glorious “Messiah” of Handel his text is so largely taken from the glorious passages of this mighty prophet.
He was also an evangelical preacher. He is the Paul of the Old Testament. He presents the life and meaning of our Lord, though he lived seven hundred fifty years before. He presents the life and message and meaning of our Lord as though he followed in the shadow of the Son of God. When a man preaches a sermon at Christmas, he’ll take his text from Isaiah. “A virgin shall be with child, and shall call His name Immanuel, God with us” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23]. If a man preaches a sermon on Good Friday, he’ll take his text from the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6]. If a man deigns and attempts to preach the doctrine of the great atonement of Christ, as I am doing on Wednesday nights, he will speak of the great prophecy of Isaiah, “God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” [Isaiah 53:11]. And if a man preaches of the glorious return of the Lord in His coming second advent, he will speak of the new heaven and the new earth as they are described by the glorious prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 65:17; 66:22]. I must conclude.
He is the great millenarian. That’s why I have paused this long, long time against the day when I would attempt to preach through this great prophetic book. Isaiah is the great millenarian. He is the great prophet of the coming millennial kingdom, when the Lord shall come in glory and in power, and shall set up in this stolid earth His kingdom of righteousness, and glory, and holiness, and beauty [Isaiah 9:7, 11:1-5, 16:5]. You know, it’s a strange thing when you study this man Isaiah and compare him with the great writers and poets and philosophers of the ancient day. Look. To all of the ancient philosophers and poets, the golden age was in the past. Plato said and spoke of the island he called Atlantis, which was located beyond the Pillars of Hercules, out in the great Atlantic sea, and which island had been submerged and lost. He describes the life and civilization on that island of Atlantis; that was the golden age of mankind, far, far in the past. Without exception, the great poets of the ancient day look back, look back to the days and the centuries as the golden age in which mankind lived in innocency and in bliss. When one studies the prophet Isaiah it is just the opposite. Isaiah lifts up his face and his voice and he hails the golden age that is yet to come. It is future, it is something God has promised and something God has revealed to this mighty servant of the Lord. The golden age in Isaiah is yet to come. The millennial dawn, the millennial age, the millennial appearing and kingdom of our Lord is something God is preparing for His people. And the way Isaiah presents it is marvelous to read and to behold. He says it shall belong to a remnant [Isaiah 10:20-21]. And one of the messages I am preparing is entitled The Doctrine of the Remnant; that is, not all will be saved, not all will be included in it, there are some who reject God, who will have nothing of Christ, who spurn the overtures of grace and mercy, who do not prepare for that glorious age. But there will always be a remnant, says the prophet Isaiah—named his first son “A remnant will return” [Isaiah 7:3]—and in that remnant, he says, God’s great and mighty kingdom purposes will come to pass [Isaiah 10:21]. That remnant shall have a King to reign over them [Isaiah 9:7]; He shall be of the line of David [Isaiah 16:5]; He shall come of the stock of Jesse [Isaiah 11:1]; He shall be virgin-born, says the prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 7:14]; He shall be filled with the Holy Spirit of God [Isaiah 11:2]; He will make atonement for the sins of His people [Isaiah 53:5]; He will prepare them for the coming kingdom [Ezekiel 20:37]. And his description of that glorious day of the Lord, when all flesh shall see it together [Isaiah 40:5], when God shall come down, when the heavens shall be rent [Isaiah 64:1], and when the King of the earth and the Lord of the hosts of heaven reigns visibly, personally, in this earth [Isaiah 40:5]: it is a golden age, it is a vision beyond description. That’s one reason I say that when they sing from Handel’s “Messiah,” I feel the same exaltation that I feel when I read these golden prophecies of the coming golden age.
Isaiah immediately would turn from judgment to an exalted victorious presentation of our coming Lord [Isaiah 40:3-11]. He will immediately turn from despair to the shining hope we have in the coming King [Isaiah 42:1, 6]. He will turn immediately from all of the darkness of despair and loss and judgment in this earth to the new heaven and the new earth in which reigns righteousness and the King of Salem, the Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6; 2 Peter 3:13]. If one is ever blue or discouraged or loses hope and faith because of the developments that he sees in this present world, let him read the prophet Isaiah and look up to the coming golden millennial kingdom of our coming Lord [Isaiah 11:1-9].
Let me say just one other word. Do you believe that these things we shall read in Isaiah of the coming of our Lord [Isaiah 11:1-9, 40:3-11], and of the establishment of His kingdom in the earth [Isaiah 32:1-5], do you believe those things could ever be actually realized? Will our eyes ever see such marvelous glory? Will our eyes ever behold the living King in this earth, and we His subjects and servants? [Revelation 22:3-5]. Could such a thing as we read in these marvelous prophecies ever actually come to pass, could they? My brother, look for just a moment. This is the man who prophesied the first coming of our Lord; in smallest detail outlined His birth, the glory of His ministry [Isaiah 9:6-7]. When the Lord came to Nazareth and began His public ministry, in the synagogue [Luke 4:16-20]. He read from the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 61:1-2], and said, “Today are these words fulfilled in your ears” [Luke 4:21-22]. He described the death of the Son of God as clearly as though he had stood that day in the shadow of the cross [Isaiah 53:1-2]. Having seen what the prophet says about the first coming of our Lord [Isaiah 53:1-12], and how the detail was fulfilled in every aspect, in every piece and part [Luke 24:44], shall I stagger then when the same prophet describes the coming glory of the King and the kingdom? What he said, what he prophesied [Isaiah 7:14], came to pass in the first advent of our blessed Savior and Redeemer [Matthew 1:21-25]. Shall I not therefore also believe that his great prophecies concerning the second coming of Christ [Isaiah 11:1-9, 40:3-11] will be no less actually and really fulfilled? [Revelation 19:11-16].
And oh, what things they are! “The day will come,” says this mighty orator and glorious poet and incomparable seer, “The day will come when there will come a root out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow up of the trunk that has been cut down,” and He shall be the Lord of righteousness, filled with the Holy Spirit of God, and He shall judge the world in peace and in equity and in justice [Isaiah 11:1-5].
And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid . . . and the lion shall eat straw like an ox . . . and they will not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain: for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
“Arise, shine; put on thy beautiful garments; for thy salvation has come” [Isaiah 52:1, 60:1]. “The King is here whose name is Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6].”
O God, may there be given to us that deepest persuasion that what we have read of the fulfilling of the prophecy in the first coming of our Lord [Isaiah 53:1-12], is a harbinger and an earnest of the greater fulfilling of the prophecies of Isaiah, when the Lord shall come in His glory [Isaiah 11:1-9, 40:3-11], when the King shall reign in His beauty [Isaiah 9:6], when the whole creation shall bow down in love, in obeisance, in worship, in acclamation, in welcome to Him who is our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ the coming King [Philippians 2:10-11].
Our time is far spent. We sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, hailing our Savior in your own heart and life, giving yourself in obeisance and worship to Him, accepting our Savior for all that He promised to be and all that He now is [Matthew 11:28-30], if God has placed and pressed the appeal to your heart, would you make it now, the decision in your soul? And on the first note of that first stanza, come. Do it now, make it now, while together we stand and sing.