I promised a post on the fulfillment of Isaiah 49-55. That was silly of me; instead, expect about 10 posts on it this year. But before I write about that, I’d like to throw some bologne into a blender to prevent Isaiah from getting chopped into pieces.
The phrase “deutero-Isaiah” is just the beginning of a huge problem that modern scholars created for themselves. The reasoning is that Isaiah would have spoken to his own generation, so he wouldn’t speak in response to the Babylonian captivity. So if Isa 40-55 is about a return from exile, it must have been written during the exile. And the end of Isaiah was probably written after the exile. Oh, but we’re just getting started. The oracles against the nations in Isa 13-23 also speak to a context later than Isaiah. The eschatology of Isa 24-27 is too advanced to have been written by Isaiah. Isa 11 mentions the “stump of Jesse,” so it must have been written during the exile. Chapter 1 is an introduction to the book, so it was written after the exile. I could go on, but then Isaiah would become a minor prophet.
And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive…’ Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away.”Isaiah 6:9, 11-12, ESV
In an Old Testament class at a conservative seminary, I was told that the reason the prophets warned of judgment is so the people would repent and turn away the judgment. It sounds plausible enough, but I had to ask why God told Jeremiah not to pray for the people, since the judgment was certain (Jer 7:16, 11:14). I think the answer was along the lines of “Yes, that is a difficult exception to the rule.” In the Isaiah quote above, God tells Isaiah not to expect widespread repentance until after the exile. Was his mission really limited to his own generation?
Vos (pages 189-190) makes a helpful distinction between the former prophets and the latter prophets. The former prophets (like Elijah) spoke to their own generation to bring repentance under the law of Moses. The latter prophets (like Isaiah) also did this, but they knew that their ultimate hope was in the destruction and regeneration of the present system. That is why the former prophets only spoke, but the latter prophets also wrote. The words of the latter prophets “dealt with things in which future generations would have a share and supreme interest” (Vos, 190).
Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples.Isaiah 8:16
Isaiah sees dark days approaching (Isa 8:17-22), so he commands his disciples to preserve the teaching until the divine Son of David brings light (Isa 9:1-7, see Isaiah 7-12 and the Divine Son of David). There would come a time when justice and righteousness would be done in Israel, but not before judgment comes upon those who ignored Isaiah’s teaching.
Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.Isaiah 39:6-7
The shift from Assyria to Babylon happens in the narrative chapters that precede what is called “deutero-Isaiah.” The angel of the Lord defeats Assyria at Jerusalem, and in Hezekiah’s later years he shows off his wealth to envoys from Babylon. Isaiah predicts the Babylonian captivity during Hezekiah’s children’s generation, and Hezekiah joins modern scholars in calling this irrelevant. But if Isaiah foretold a Babylonian captivity, is it crazy to think he also foretold a return from captivity? The truth is that Hezekiah should have been concerned for his sons, and his sons would need hope when the darkness came.
The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, “My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.” You have heard, now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known.Isaiah 48:3-6
There is an especially great irony in saying that Isaiah wouldn’t have written Isa 40-48 because it is about future generations: the Lord explains why He is telling the future over (Isa 41:21-29) and over (Isa 42:8-9) and over (Isa 43:9-13) and over (Isa 44:6-8) and over (Isa 45:20-21). The Lord’s precise foretelling of what He will do in the future shows that He is the only God and Savior. He has the power to bring about all of His purposes, so Israel should not fear. When He brings about salvation, idols should receive no credit, and all of the glory should go to the Lord. The nations should see that He has the power to save, and they should turn to Him.
When Jesus had said these things, he departed from them and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.John 12:36-41
Why would Isaiah talk about Jesus? Because he saw his glory. John’s first quote from “the prophet Isaiah” is from Isa 53, which an incredible number of scholars would say was not written by “the prophet Isaiah.” But even more powerfully, John quotes from the same “Isaiah” in Isa 6, when Isaiah sees the glory of the Lord– and John says that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory. And the hard-hearted Israelites Isaiah spoke of were not only his own generation, but the generation that killed Jesus. Isaiah did not speak about Jesus on accident, and Isaiah 53 was not (as I’ve recently read) about the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. Anyone who believes the teaching of the apostles should believe that Isaiah intentionally spoke about Jesus, because he saw his glory.