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Isaiah 40: Talking to the Heart

-by Pastor Ashley Brown

The Authorship Question

In the last 150 years some scholars have argued the book of Isaiah was written by a series of individuals over a period of a couple hundred years. They insist the Prophet Isaiah only wrote the first 39 chapters. A second person wrote chapters 40-55 roughly 150 years later. And a third person wrote chapters 56-66 another 50 years after that. There are two main arguments for this view of Isaiah’s authorship. First, the style of the later chapters is different than those of the earlier ones. For instance, later chapters are written to the people of Judah, rather than about them. Second, the explicit background and elements of Babylon and Cyrus would require a detailed knowledge of the future for Isaiah to be the author. It is more logical, some argue, to conclude that a later person wrote chapters 40-66 in an effort to encourage the Jewish people. However, I personally believe the prophet Isaiah entirely wrote the book which bears his name.

The Thematic Unity of Isaiah

The entire book of Isaiah is tightly woven thematically. Every single chapter, from chapter 1 to chapter 66, reflects the themes of the other chapters. For instance, Babylon does not only play a prominent part in the later chapters. It plays the largest single part in Isaiah 13-27, the chapters in which the LORD announces judgment and salvation over the entire world. The former chapters of Isaiah introduce the very same themes the later chapters develop. In particular, the first section of Isaiah builds the case that the LORD alone is worthy of worship and trust. He alone has power over all nations, and He alone can save His people. The later chapters then develop this theme in ways intended to provide verification of its truth. The LORD declares that He alone is able to explain the past, tell the future, and to work in completely new and unexpected ways. This is provided as verifying evidence that the LORD alone is sovereign over Creation, the nations, and all human history. For this reason, the LORD alone is worthy of our worship, praise, trust, and obedience.

The Nature of Prophecy

Prophecy is, by its very nature, the forth-telling of truth revealed by God. This forth-telling can involve explanations of the past, present, or future (foretelling). Regardless of whether past, present, or future is in view, the truth the prophet communicates is only known by divine revelation. As a result, it should not surprise us to find Isaiah foretelling accurately detailed elements of the future, particularly when the purpose of that prophecy is to verify the LORD ability to know the future and bring about His purposes. However, this is not a problem if one accepts the possibility that the LORD actually does know the future and is bringing about His purposes in human history.

The Conclusion

The prophet Isaiah wrote the entire book of Isaiah. There is a comprehensive unity to the book that cohesively draws our attention to “Behold our God!” And to respond to the good news of who He is with praise. As John Oswalt, a theologian, has written regarding this issue,

Isaiah of Jerusalem did indeed predict the Babylonian exile, and in so doing showed how the towering theology that he had applied to events in his own lifetime would become even more towering in relation to those new situations that he could see in outline, but not in detail.

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