Great Themes in Isaiah 40-66

F. B. Huey, Jr.  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 11 - Fall 1968


The book of Isaiah is composed of three natural divisions: sayings, principally of judgment, chapters 1-35; historical narratives, chapters 36-39 (almost identical with II Kings 18:13-20:19); and sayings, principally of comfort, chapters 40-66. Ibn Ezra (1167) was the first to hint that these literary units were so distinct as to suggest different authors. J. G. Eichhorn (1783) and J. C. Doderlein (1789) postulated that chapters 40-66 were written by a prophet of the exile and not by Isaiah the son of Amoz. This great anonymous prophet became known as Deutero- or Second Isaiah. Bernhard Duhm (1892) refined the theory further by restricting Deutero-Isaiah to chapters 40-55 and attributing 56-66 to Trito-Isaiah (of a later date).[1]Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. Peter R. Ackroyd (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), p. 304. Most contemporary scholarship affirms the multiple authorship of Isaiah; however, some conservative scholars still insist upon the unity of the book.[2]For the conservative view see: O. T. Allis, The Unity of Isaiah (Phila­delphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1950); Rachel Margalioth, The Indivisible Isaiah (New York: Sura Institute for Research, 1964); E. J. Young, Studies in Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954); and E. J. Young, Who Wrote Isaiah? (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 19,58).

Thematic differences are apparent between chapters 1-39 and 40-66 and have been used as evidence for different authors. The characteristic themes of the first division—the kingship o[ the Davidic dynasty, the prophet’s rebukes against certain political maneuvers, and the prominence of Assyria—are lacking in 40-66.[3]John L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah (The Anchor Bible, ed. W. F. Albright and D. N. Freedman; Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1968), pp. xvi-xvii. The scope of this study will be limited to the great themes found in Isaiah 40-66 (considered as a unity, following Smart.[4]James D. Smart, History and Theology in Second Isaiah (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965), p. 30, where he expresses a “prejudice in favor of the unity of chapters 35 and 40 to   66.”), with particular emphasis on the themes found in 40-55. G. A. F. Knight calls the author of chapters 40-55 a theological giant and the greatest mind of all the prophets of the Old Testament. He suggests that these sixteen chapters are “as decisive and significant for an understanding of the Christian faith as are the sixteen chapters of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.”[5]George A. F. Knight, Deutero-Isaiah: A Theological Commentary on Isaiah 40-55 (New York: Abingdon Press, 1965), pp. 9, 11.

Bible scholars for some years were so occupied with critical matters related to Deutero-and Trito-Isaiah that little attention was given to the message itself. Happily, in recent years Old Testament scholarship has recognized that the task of interpretation is not complete when authorship, date, historical background, and textual problems have been studied so that today the search for the abiding truths of the Old Testament (the theological interpretation) is being given special emphasis.[6]Recent books dealing with the theological interpretation include: John Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament (New York: Abingdon Press, 1967); Herbert F. Hahn, The Old Testament in Modern Research (Rev. ed.; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), pp. 226-49; James D. Smart, The Inter­pretation of Scripture (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961). For the theo­logical treatment of Isaiah see: Knight; James Muilenburg “The Book of Isaiah,” The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick et at., Vol. V (New York: Abingdon Press, 1956), pp. 398-414; Smart, History and Theo­ logy … ; Smart, The Old Testament in Dialogue with Modern Man (Phila­delphia: Westminster Press, 1964), pp. 104-33.

What, then, are the great themes of Isaiah 40-66? It is impossible to find two commentaries that delineate them in exactly the same way. This difference is not due to inability to recognize or agree on the themes but rather due to a difference in methodology, terminology, or purpose. Some scholars have tried to discover one theme underlying all the chapters. Representative of this group is B. W. Anderson, who compares the treatment of this single theme to the development of a musical composition:

As a Bach fugue introduces a major theme and subjects it to complex contrapuntal development, so the poems of Second Isaiah are an elaboration of the theme announced in the prologue: Yahweh’s imminent coming to inaugurate his kingdom. In the remaining poems, this central theme is artistically blended and enriched with other motifs as the work dramatically moves toward its climax.[7]B. W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1957), p. 407.

Another suggestion is that the central message (found in 40:1-11) is the imminence of salvation for exiled Israel.[8]Douglas R. Jones, “Isaiah-II and II,” Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, ed. Matthew Black and H. H. Rowley (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1963), p. 517. McKenzie acknowledges that the dominant theme appears to be salvation but insists that it is really the mission of Israel for which the nation has been saved, i.e., to reveal Yahweh to other nations.[9]McKenzie, p. lvii. Skinner says that all the ideas of chapters 40-55 cluster around the one central theme of Israel’s approaching deliverance and the consequences for mankind which will flow from that event.[10]J. Skinner, The Book of the Phrophet Isaiah, Chapters XL-LXVI (“The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges,” ed. A. F. Kirkpatrick; rev.; Cam­bridge: University Press, 1963), pp. x, xii. Cf. Elmer A. Leslie, Isaiah (New York: Abingdon Press, 1963), p. 138. Driver insists that chapters 40-66 deal throughout with a common theme, viz., Israel’s restoration from exile in Babylon.[11]S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), p. 230.

It is true that these chapters are dominated by profound faith in an eschatological deliverance,[12]Ernst Sellin and Georg Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament, trans. David E. Green (New York: Abingdon Press, 1968), p. 383. but rather than to ex­plain this underlying emphasis as the expression of a single theme, it seems better to acknowledge that there are a number of themes woven together and repeated in various ways. It is this repetition of themes that knits the chapters together.[13]Smart, History and Theology …, p. 37. Reminiscent of Anderson’s comparison of the monothematic motif to the development of a musical composition is Smart’s description of the polythematic structure of Isaiah 40-66:

Chapters 40 to 55 are like a great symphony whose themes were announced in chs. 40 to 42, then developed and brought to their climax in ch. 53, being constantly intertwined in the most skillful fashion, with chs. 54 and 55 forming the triumphant conclusion. Chapters 56 to 66 are like briefer works by the same hand, containing many of the same themes but merely gathered into a collection rather than knit together into a unified work.[14]Ibid., pp. 230-31; cf, Muilenburg, p. 389.

Even as scholars who find only one theme in Isaiah 40-66 do not express that theme the same way, those who find a number of themes describe them in various ways.[15]Cf. the following for their different treatment of the themes: B. W. Anderson, pp. 407-14; G. W. Anderson, A Critical Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., 1959), p. 116; Eissfeldt, p.337; Walter Harrelson, Interpreting the Old Testament (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1964), p. 247; Muilenburg, pp. 385, 389; C. R. North, “Isaiah,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick, II (1962), pp. 739-40; Robert H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York: Harper & Row, 1948), pp. 472-80; Skinner, p. x. If a list of the themes were prepared without any attempt at correlating them, the resulting enumeration would include at least the following: the sovereignty of God, God as redeemer, God as holy, God as only, God as creator, God as universal, God’s activity in history, the word of God, the foolishness of idolatry, comfort, forgiveness, judgment, salvation, restoration from exile (the New Exodus), the servant motif, exaltation of the weak, and the eschatological expectation. Some of the themes in such a list obviously imbricate and may even seem to be identical. For the purpose of this study the various themes have been grouped into four principal categories which will be considered the four great themes of Isaiah 40-66. These are the concept of God, the proclamation of salvation, the mission of Israel (including the servant passages), and the eschatological expectation.


Concept of God

It has been observed that the center of Old Testament religion is found in its doctrine of God.[16]Robert C. Dentan, Preface to Old Testament Theology (Rev. ed.; New York: The Seabury Press, 1963), p. 118. There is, of course, no systematic formulation of the doctrine of God in Isaiah 40-66, but the concept of God dominates the message at all times. Whether the uniqueness of God is being affirmed (45:22), or a message of comfort is being proclaimed (40:1), or judgment upon Babylon is being announced (47:5), a theocentric faith is at all times evident.


God as Sovereign

Nowhere else in the Old Testament is the sovereignty of God affirmed in so many ways. Whether the reference is to God’s revelation through his acts in history (43:12-13) or through his words (55:10-11), to God as creator (40:28), to the uniqueness of God (45:18), to the foolishness of idolatry (44:9-20), to the promise of salvation (43:11-13), of judgment (63:1-6 ), or to eschatological bliss (62:1-5) , confidence in the sovereignty of God is being affirmed. God’s ultimate purpose in history is to establish his sovereignty over all mankind but it will be brought about by love and not by compulsion (43:4). Such love invokes a response of faith and obedience. God’s sovereignty includes judgment of his own people if necessary, even to letting other nations trample and oppress them (43:28).

There is need for emphasis on the sovereignty of God today when nations are concerned as never before about justice, freedom and peace for all peoples. A new order will never be achieved until God’s sovereignty is acknowledged, for the radical transformation needed in the world must begin with the individual, a change that can occur only when self-sovereignty is abnegated and God is acknowledged as supreme. The figure of the potter and the clay (41:25; 45:9; 64:8) is used to show the relationship to God of a life that is totally in his hands (62:3).

At a time when many feel that the world is like a driverless car without brakes careening madly down a mountain road to certain destruction, the reaffirmation of the sovereignty of God is needed. He still rules. He has not abandoned the world to anarchy and chaos (40:10, 21-24). The power of all the nations is no more to him than a drop of water in a rain cloud (40:15).[17]Ugaritic studies have shown “rain cloud” to be the more likely translation of the word ordinarily rendered “bucket” in 40:15; Smart, History and Theology …, p. 57. One day the proud and the mighty will be destroyed and the weak will be exalted (40:29; 41:2-4, 11-13, 25; 47:10-11; 61:1-7). No one can hinder the accomplishment of God’s work (43:13).


God as Only

A vital corollary of the sovereignty of God is the affirmation that he is the only God. More insistently than anywhere else in the Old Testament absolute monotheism is proclaimed in Isaiah 40-66. The further insistence upon God as creator, universal, active in history, the repeated ridicule heaped upon idols and the gods of other nations, even the message of judgment, forgiveness, salvation, and eschatological bliss all assume that there is only one God. There can be no mistake concerning the thoroughgoing monotheism found in Isaiah 40-66: “Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me” (43:10; cf. 44:6-8; 45:5-6, 18, 21-22; 46:9). God alone was responsible for the creation of heaven, earth, and man (44:24). He is the first and the last (48:12); no one has ever seen another god like him (64:4). Dualism and any suggestion that God is not in absolute control of all things are firmly opposed (45:5-13). It is confidently predicted that one day other nations will also acknowledge that there is no other god (45:14).


The Foolishness of Idolatry

Nowhere else in the Old Testament is the foolishness of idol worship portrayed in more trenchant terms or with such cutting irony (unless it be Elijah in his confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, I Kings 18) or with such persistence. The frequent ridicule heaped upon idolatry in these chapters indicates that the practice was widespread and seductive. The idol made by the skillful craftsman which men will fall down and worship as their god is scorned (40:18-20; 41:5-7; 44:9-20; 46:1-7; cf. Jer. 10:1-10). The idols are challenged to predict the future in order that men may know that they are gods (41:21-24). By contrast the people are told that God reveals what he is going to do lest they in their obstinacy give their idols credit for the deed (48:3-5). Idols are nothing, empty wind, and the one who sets his heart on them sets his heart on nothing (41:28-29) and will be put to shame (42:17; 44:9-11; 45:16), for such gods cannot save (45:20; 46:5-7; 5-7: 13). The powerlessness of idols is made clear in the description of the two chief gods of the Babylonians, Bel and Nebo, being loaded on beasts and carried helplessly into captivity. By contrast the true God carries Israel as his burden (46:1-4; cf. 57:13). The true God carries and the false gods have to be carried!”[18]Ibid., p. 134. Israel’s tragedy was that God was eager for his people to seek him, but they continued to provoke and reject him by their abominable practices (65:1-7; 66:3-4).


God as Creator

Dentan says concerning “Second Isaiah that with him for the first time, the belief in God as creator of heaven and earth becomes the first article of Israel’s creed.”[19]Robert C. Dentan, The Knowledge of God in the Old Testament (New York: The Seabury Press, 1968), p. 65; cf. B. W. Anderson, pp. 407-11; Mc­ Kenzie, p. lix; Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology trans D M G Stalker, Vol. II (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 240-41. The story of creation had for a long time been a part of the nation’s historical traditions, but it remained for this great prophet to consider the implications of such a belief . He perceived the relationship of the doctrine of creation to the doctrine of election; the God who created the heavens and the earth also chose Israel as part of his purpose for the entire world (42:5-9). To acknowledge that he is the “Creator of the ends of the earth” (40:28) recognizes the sovereignty of God and leaves room for no other gods (45:5-8). It is also the basis of the prophet’s message of salvation for all peoples.

The power of God is closely linked to creation (40:25-31; 45:7-8; 48:12-13) as well as redemption (43:1, 44:21-22, 24). The Israelites recognized that only one with supreme creative power could direct the events of history and overcome all obstacles placed in the way of the salvation of his people.[20]McKenzie, p. lx. The one who remembers that God is his creator has no need to fear anything and thus finds comfort (51:12-16). One day God will create new heavens and a new earth, and there will be peace, great joy, no more weeping, and all peoples will worship him (65:17-25; 66:22-23). There will be no need to build a house for him, for he has created all things (66:1-2). A consistent doctrine of creation leaves no room for dualism, i.e., two opposing forces struggling for supremacy. The Hebrew carried this belief to its logical conclusion that God created everything, whether good or evil, even the misery and oppression that had come upon his people (45:7; 47:6; 54:16; 64:7).

The greatest confession of faith in the New Testament is found in Peter’s words, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). The greatest confessions of faith in the Old Testament are those that affirm God as Creator: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (40:28 RSV). When a person can accept by faith the first words of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” he will not have a great deal of difficulty accepting the rest of the scriptures.


God’s Activity in History

Smart says that “Second Isaiah, more than any other prophet, has a comprehensive conception of God’s activity in the whole history of Israel.”[21]Smart, History and Theology …, p. 50. God is proclaimed as the Lord of history (43:12-13; 46:11). The Israelites were reminded to look to their past heritage that they might understand the present and anticipate the future (41:8-13; 51:1-2). They need not fear, for God will help them in their struggles (41:13). He reminded them that he was with them at the time of the Exodus (43:16-21; 50:2; 51:10; 63:10-14). He raises up nations and brings judgment upon them (45:1; 46:1-47:15). It was he who gave his people over to the oppressor (42:24-25; 43:27-28; 50:1), and he is the one who will deliver them from oppression (43:14; 48:14; 49:25-26) and vindicate them (50:7-9) and exalt them (60:15-16). The people were reminded that God was raising up Cyrus as the instrument of his purposes (41:2-4; 44:28; 45:1-6). In spite of all God had done for them, the nation was so enamored with her idols that she gave them credit for the mighty acts performed by God (48:3-5). The reminder of God’s activity in history should speak to twentieth-century man, “come of age,” who rejects his ties with the past and arrogantly says that history has nothing to teach him. Man can and ought to learn from history; he rarely does.


God as Universal

In chapters 40-66 it is made very clear that God’s purposes include the whole world. At the very beginning the universal note is sounded which is maintained throughout: “All flesh shall see . . .” (40: 5; cf. 45: 14-25). The doctrine of the election of Israel in no way conflicts with the universal outlook of Isaiah 40-66, though it tended to obscure this fact for Israel, for she concluded that election was to be equated with exclusivism.

An insistent monotheism requires an unrestricted universality. The cosmic God of Isaiah 40-66 is the logical result of a monotheistic belief and the affirmation that God is the creator and protector of all mankind. Yahweh desired that Israel return to him (43:4-7; 49:5) and gave to the restored nation the responsibility of being a light and a covenant to the nations (42:6; 49:9) in order that his salvation might reach the ends of the earth (42:6; 45:22; 49:6; 52: 10; 60:3). The God of Israel is also concerned for the blind, the brokenhearted, and the oppressed of the world (42:7; 61:1). His justice must be established in all the earth (42:4). One day all people from the rising of the sun to its setting will know that there is none beside him (45:6; 59:19). Nations that knew him not will turn to him (55:5; 60:3), and every knee will bow to him (45:23). The nations will see the vindication of Israel (62:2). God’s house will become a house of prayer for all peoples (56:6-8). At the same time salvation for all nations is proclaimed, its counterpart is the warning that all nations will be judged, for the God who saves the nations also judges them (59:18-19; 60: 10-14; 66: 15-17). He is a God for all seasons and for all mankind.


God as Redeemer

Redeemer (go’el) is a unique Hebrew word characteristic of Isaiah 40-66. It is used there thirteen times (41:14; 43:14; 44:6, etc.) but only one other time by another prophet (Jer. 50:34). The term is often linked with holiness (“Your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,” 43: 14). The go’el had certain obligations and responsibilities within the family which included the avenging of blood of a murdered kinsman (Deut. 19:6), the duty to marry the widow of the nearest kinsman (Deut. 25:5-10), the duty to buy back family land which had been sold (Lev. 25:25), the responsibility of looking after the needy and helpless members of the family as their protector (Lev. 25:35; Job 19:25) , and the obligation to buy back a member of the family who had been sold into slavery (Lev. 25:47-48 ) . Ruth 4:4-6 and Jeremiah 32:6-15 are good examples of how the go’el responded to his obligations. The word 1s used elsewhere in the sense of a kinsman (Ruth 2:20) and as a verb, “deliver” (Ps. 119:154). God was Israel’s go’el; he would elevate them from their debased position of a “worm” to become a powerful “threshing sledge” (41:14-16). God asked his people not to fear (43:1) and pleaded with them to return to him because he had already redeemed them (44:21-23); he announced deliverance from Babylon to his redeemed people (48:20). Their redemption was free (52:3); it was because of his love and pity that he redeemed them (63:9).


God as Holy

The phrase “Holy One of Israel” is an oft-repeated theme in Isaiah 40-66. It has been argued that its frequent usage (thirteen times) supports Deutero-Isaianic authorship, but the same phrase is found twelve times in chapters 1-39; therefore it is not determinative in the question of authorship of Isaiah. Elsewhere in the Old Testament it is found only six times. The emphasis on a holy God implies that he must have a holy people. All that is touched by a holy God is holy also: holy city (52:1), holy arm (52:10), holy mountain (57:13), holy name (57:15) , holy day (58:13), holy people (62:12 ), holy Spirit (63:10), holy house (64:11), courts of my holiness (62:9), habitation of thy holiness (63:15) . By contrast the prophet was overwhelmed by the wickedness of Israel (56:9-59:15). The wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot rest; there is no peace for them (57:20-21).


The Proclamation of Salvation

Isaiah has been called the evangelist of the Old Testament because he brought a message of good news to the poor, release for the captives, and comfort for those who mourn (61:1-2). The most obvious theme of Isaiah 40-66 is that of salvation· o other theme occurs so frequently. The opening words, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people . . .” (40:1-2), are a proclamation of salvation which expresses itself in the forgiveness of Israel and the end of her punishment. Forgiveness is an essential part of salvation. God has swept away their sins like a cloud that nothing might hinder their return to him (44:22). A new day was dawning which required a radical break with past practices and the abandonment of all their unrighteous ways. It should not be surprising to find words of Judgment and fierce denunciation of sin coupled with words of comfort and forgiveness, for they are inseparable. It is true that “no one can know God’s mercy or comfort without coming under his judgment.”[22]Ibid., p. 27. Judgment included the enemies of Israel (47:1-15; 51:22-23; 66:6) but also Israel herself. The purpose of judgment was to cause Israel to change her ways (55:6-9); she needed to know that it was God who had brought judgment and punishment (42:24-25; 43:27-28; 50:1; 57:17; 59:2) and that Yahweh alone has the power to save (43:11). He proved his power by his salvation of Israel (43:8-13; 45:20-25). No other god had done such a remarkable thing as to bring a people that had perished back to life (cf. Ezek. 37: 1-14). Whether Israel would proclaim his salvation or not her very existence was witness to the saving power of God.

God made known to Israel that she had been forgiven by the announcement that Cyrus was liberating the exiles that they might return to their own land (41:25; 44:28; 48:20). This was God s way of saying that they had been forgiven. It was not a forgiveness they had earned or merited (43:25) but was all a work of God’s grace (43:4). The covenant relationship itself was one of grace; God could no more forget his people than a mother her baby (49:14-18), even though they had turned from him to idols. The idols they worshiped were powerless to deliver them (46:7), nor could their sacrifices and offerings placate God. Even if they brought all the wood of the forest of Lebanon and all the wild animals in the forest for sacrifice, they could not please God (40:16). The only person God would look upon with favor was the person of humble and contrite spirit (57:15; 66:2), the one who practiced justice toward his fellow man (56:1; 58:6-12), and was obedient to God (48: 18-19).

Salvation is described as near (62:11), as sure (55:10), as already accomplished (43:1), as free (52:3; 55:1), as joyful (49:13; 51:3; 60:5; 61:10), as eternal (45:17; 51:6; 54:8-10), and for all peoples (45:6; 49:6; 51:4-5).


The Mission of Israel

In suggesting that the mission of Israel is the dominant theme of Isaiah 40-55, McKenzie sees Israel as the servant (41:8-9; 42:19; 44:1-2) and witness (43:10; 44:8; 48:6, 20) of Yahweh.[23]McKenzie, p. lvii. Israel’s mission also included being a light to the nations (42:6; 49:6; 60:1-3), a covenant to the peoples (42:6; 49: 8), declaring God’s glory among the nations (66:19), and sharing with the poor and homeless (58:7-8; 61:1-3). As a result nations would turn to Israel (55:5; 60:3) and would be submissive to her (49:22-23), not as she had been forced to submit to the politically and militarily superior Assyrians and Babylonians, but in acknowledgment of the supremacy of Israel’s God and that in him alone could salvation be found.

Duhm was responsible for the idea that the Servant passages (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) were “embedded” in the text, and, as a result of his influence, they are still studied in isolation. Smart warns that care should be exercised not to separate them from the context.[24]Smart, History and Theology . . ., pp. 25-26, a view which he points is shared by others, including Budde, Muilenburg, Hooker, and Torrey. This study cannot deal with the question of the various interpretations of the Servant passages but can only indicate that the Servant theme is one of the greatest ones found in Isaiah 40-66.[25]The literature on the subject is immense. See: J. Lindblom, The Servant Songs in Deutero-Isaiah (Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1951); McKenzie, pp. xxxviii-lv; Muilenburg, pp. 406,14; C. R. North, The Suffering Servant in Deutero-Isaiah (2nd ed.; London: Oxford University Press, 1956); A. S. Peake, ed., The Servant of Yahweh (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1931), pp. 1-74; H. H. Rowley, The Servant of the Lord and Other Essays on the Old Te8tament (2nd ed. rev.; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965), pp. 3- 93; W. Zimmerli and J. Jeremias, The Servant of God, trans. Harold Knight (London: SCM Press, 1957), pp. 105-107. The Servant is in some sense Israel (clearly so at times, 41:8; 44:1; 44:21; 49:3). Perhaps the best key to understanding the passages from the perspective of the prophet is to see them as a description of the ideal Israel, Israel fulfilling her mission as God had intended. However, it is common knowledge that the history of Israel is a history of failure; she did not fulfill her mission. Jesus, as perfect Israel, the true Israelite, Israel reduced to one person, is seen by the Christian as the fulfillment of the Servant that Israel failed to be (especially as seen in the description of the suffering Servant, 52:13-53:12).


Eschatological Expectation

Moltmann says that Christianity from first to last is “eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present.”[26]Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, trans. James W. Leitch (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 16. The same may also be said of the underlying eschatological tension expressed in so many different ways in Isaiah 40-66. The one who confidently proclaimed: “Behold, the Lord God will come” (40: 10) was surely a prophet of hope. More sublimely than anywhere else in the Old Testament the blessed­ness of the world of the future is portrayed in these chapters. The return of the people from exile is joyfully announced (43:5-6; 51:11; 58:8). They are told that judgment is past (51:22) and that a great new day for God’s people is about to begin (40:1-5; 44:21-23; 60:15). It will be a time of vindication for them (41:11; 45:17; 49:23; 54:17; 61:7; 62:1) and a time of great joy (51:11; 52:8; 55:12; 61:7; 65:19). Jerusalem will be rebuilt (44:26-28), and the Spirit will be poured out on the people (44:3; 59:21). Israel will be triumphant over her enemies (41:14-16). She will be transformed from a weak, trampled nation to a great nation that will rule for God upon the earth (45:14; 49:7, 22-23; 60:10-14; 61:5-9).[27]Th. C. Vriezen, An Outline of Old Testament Theology, trans. S. Neui­jen (Wageningen, Holland: H. Veenman & Zonen N. V., 1958), p. 361.

It is a coming day not just for Israel but for the whole world (40:5; 42:1-4; 60:1-7). It will be a time of judgment for the nations (42:14-17; 43:14; 47:1-3; 59:18; 65:6-7; 66:15-17) and a time of deliverance of the poor and needy (41:17-20). Other nations will look to Israel for knowledge of God (55:5; 60:3). All peoples will acknowledge the sovereignty of God (45:6, 23; 49:26) and worship him (56:6-8; 66:23). There will be a new heaven and a new earth (65:17; 66:22) after the destruction of the old (51:6), and all nature will be transformed (41:17-20; 43:19-20; 51:3; 55:13; 65:25).

The cybernetic generation would probably describe the “Golden Age” in terms of social security, medicare, unemployment insurance, guaranteed annual income, and a color television in every home. The prophet expressed it more eloquently in the language of his day with figures from nature: “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree” (55:13) and “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together” (65:25).



No richer theological content is found anywhere else among the prophets of the Old Testament than that found in Isaiah 40-66. In the unfolding of the great themes of these chapters, a profound insight is revealed into the nature of God, his salvation, and his purposeful plan in history. John Paterson sums up the greatness of the one whom he calls the “prophet of world service”:

Deutero-Isaiah was a prophet of daring faith and splendid vision. . . . But he paid the penalty for greatness; his lofty insights were too lofty for Israel. . . . Deutero-Isaiah had to wait until Christ came before men could clearly envisage the prospect of a universal kingdom and understand fully the glory of vicarious suffering.[28]John Paterson, The Goodly Fellowship of the   Prophets (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948), pp. 203-204.


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