Isaiah (8thC BC)

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Isaiah was a contemporary of the prophet prophesized that Israel was doomed because of the sins of her people. The two prophets differed only to the extent that Amos preached mainly to the northern kingdom, whereas Isaiah included the kingdom of Judah in his visions and preaching as well. As is the case with the other prophets, little is known of Isaiah's life, save that his first prophetic vision occurred in 742 B.C. (after the death of King Uzziah) and that his wife, referred to as the "Prophetess," bore him sons whom he named after his prophecies so that they might be living reminders to the Hebrew nation of its impending doom.

A distinct mark of Isaiah's theology is the degree to which it emphasizes God's dissatisfaction with mere forms and rituals of worship performed for their own sake. These rituals had lost contact with the deep moral and spiritual meanings originally embodied in them. Isaiah was therefore highly critical of the priests who performed the rituals and perpetuated the spiritual drought. "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats."1 Isaiah's deep concern for justice, moral conduct between people, and sincere faith are all reflected in his emphasis on the Covenant. The Jews were on the wrong path (indicated by the prevalence of social and moral failings), he preached, but they could return to the right path by choosing God again and restoring their contractual relationship with him. Failure to return would be disastrous. God had already sent the Assyrians to punish the Jews, and their state was in serious jeopardy (Isaiah 10:5-6).

The Gospels draw heavily on the Book of Isaiah for a utopic view of the world. The famous "swords to plowshares" quote (Isaiah 2:4) is but one of its famous proclamations. The idea that faith and its substance are more important than ritual had a profound influence on later Christian thought and was especially important during the Reformation. Likewise, Isaiah's understanding of "higher law" or a "divine contract" contributed significantly to the development of the Western legal tradition. Finally, his message of social justice as one of the prime agents in the stability of nations has continued to be a force into the present.


[1] Isaiah 1:11


The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.

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