1. Know the context/background. Biblically, historically, literarily.
2. Look for important doctrines.
3. Look for how the New Testament makes use of the book. They are identifying patterns linking books in the Old Testament to Jesus.
These three steps require that we know the whole Bible, and have a framework of Biblical theology.
It’s very difficult to preach Isaiah verse by verse. It’s massive.
Big Picture: Four kings mentioned in Isaiah 1 as being part of the landscape of the book.
Assyria was a pretty nasty empire who used to extort countries through the threat of invasion. Their artwork and historiography shows that they ruled by terror. Impaling heads. Burning people. All that sort of stuff. They ruled Judah, one way or another, for over 100 years.
Then there’s Babylon. Babylon eventually conquered Assyria, but before that happened Babylon was a thorn in Assyria’s side. And Assyria conquered them a bunch of times. So when we see that Assyria conquered Babylon in the text – we have to ask “which time”… the Ancient Near East was a volatile political mix constantly one step away from (or in the midst of) conflict. The kings of these nations jostle for status and make bold proclamations about their greatness.
And Isaiah is focused on promoting Yahweh as the real king of kings and lord of lords. He preaches and predicts Assyria’s arrival for thirty years, and then becomes the comforter and conscience of Israel and Judah.
The message of Isaiah starts with sin and degradation and ends at Zion. It’s creation and new creation – God acting through a redeemer to bring his people to the new creation and he punishes the wicked.
Isaiah 2:1-22 describes the nations are coming to the Lord and invites Israel to do the same. Isaiah, like Jesus and Paul, was to go first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.
The gospel has always been “accept my king, and you will be at home in Zion (the new creation).” It comes with a downside. The gospel is very good news to those who put their trust in it, and very bad news for those who don’t. That’s one of the most pressing challenges of our time – preaching judgment. But everybody, deep down, wants justice. So we need to figure out how to preach that truth with love.
Chapter 25 describes the gift from the true king (as opposed to the gifts from kings of surrounding nations) as life. Delivery from death. Chapters 21-33 are the hardest to preach in the book of Isaiah. There are some beautiful passages in chapter 19 that promise the Egyptians, the Assyrians and the nations will be part of God’s people.
The prophets never give up on getting Israel back into the fold.
The book speaks to the late eighth century and early seventh, primarily, but it also says something about the future. And about a future that still has not happened today.
Structure – Seven Cycles.
1. The Bloody City and Glorious Zion. 1:1-4-6.
2. The Spoiled Vineyard and the Rejoicing Citizens of Zion. 5:1-12:6.
3. The Wicked Nations and Yahweh’s Resurrected People . 13:1-27:13.
4. Proud Ephraim and the Rejoicing Remnant. 28:1-35:10.
5. Blaspheming Gentiles, the Covenant with David, and Righteous Gentiles. 36:1-56:8.
6. Blind Watchmen and Citizens with a New Name. 56:9-62:12.
7. A Blessed People, New Heavens and Earth, and Burning Sinners. 63:1-66:24
The book ends with the call for missionaries from many nations (Isaiah 66:18-21).
The big issue is “are you a servant of the servant?”
Jesus quotes Isaiah when he starts his ministry. John the Baptist cites Isaiah. Several times in the New Testament the writers use Isaiah to show that they are preaching “THE GOSPEL” the same one that Isaiah had been preaching. Isaiah is a great model for ministering to all sorts of people in all sorts of settings.