An Outline of Isaiah (2)

M. A. Rudge

In the third section of the book of the prophet Isaiah (Chapters 13 - 23), the series of oracles against ten nations, show how "the path to redemption is worked out through judgment upon specific peoples and the principles which they represent." The first five nations are named whilst the last five are somewhat enigmatic and concentrate more upon the principles represented by them. This is true, even where a nation is named, as in the case of Tyre (ch. 23) and later, with Idumea (ch 34), where the narrative goes beyond the literal designation, with the well-known reputation of these nations for commercialism and inveterate hostility against Israel, which makes them ideally representative.

Section four (Chapters 24 - 27), has been called ‘Isaiah’s Apocalypse.’ It is "A Tale of Two Cities." Babylon is the first nation to be mentioned in both subsections of the ten oracles (chs. 13 - 20 and 21 - 23), and Babylon is the Global City, the city of confusion [‘chaos’] - 24:10; 25:2,12; 26:5; 27:10 in contrast to Zion, which is the "strong city" - 24:23; 25:6,7,10; 26:1; 27:13. There is a fourfold Song of Praise in 25:1-5, 9-12; 26:1; 27:2,13. This section closes with the subject of redemption in Zion (chapter 27).

In the fifth section (Chapters 28 - 33), there is a fivefold "Woe" pronounced upon Ephraim (28:1); Ariel (29:1); "them that go down to Egypt for help" (30:-3, 7-9; 3 1:1) and Assyria, the nation used to discipline Israel, which now, itself comes under the governmental dealings of Jehovah. The alliance with Egypt (chs. 30 and 31), again raises the central issue of trust in the Lord or turning away to other sources, "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help.. .they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord" (31:1). In a way, that is comparable to chapters 24 - 27. The sixth section (chs. 34 - 35), deals with a contrasting theme. This time it is between Idumea, the Desert of Universal Desolation (ch. 34) and Zion, the Desert of Renewal and Universal Rejoicing (ch. 35).

The key issue of whether Judah and its leaders would turn to Egypt or trust in the Lord, is finally brought to a climax in the seventh and final section of Part 1 (chs. 36 - 39). As the Assyrian armies approach Jerusalem, Hezekiah faces the same decision as Ahaz in chapter 7. The Assyrian commander-in-chief presents the issue on this occasion, "What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? ...Lo, thou trustest in this broken reed, on Egypt.. .But if thou say to me, We trust in the Lord our God..." (36:4-7). Chapters 38 and 39 deal with Hezekiah’s sickness and his reception of the envoy from Merodach-Baladan, the king of Babylon. It anticipates the crisis which the rise of Babylon brings to the nation and which casts its shadow over the second half of the book.

The heights to which Hezekiah rises in chapters 37 and 38 and his failure in chapter 39 (2 Chron. 32:31; 2 Kings 20:16-18), where Isaiah foretells the carrying away of Judah into Babylon (605 BC), show the two possible responses to the constant challenge of Christian experience. The challenge is the issue of trust and where that trust is to be placed. It is a question which the book of Isaiah forces on us again and again, with good reason, for our response to it will determine the shape of our lives.