The prophet Isaiah had the courage to say uncomfortable truths. He brought a message of repentance—and of God’s love.
Isaiah—the prophet who proclaimed that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares” (2:4) and that “the wolf shall live with the lamb” (11:6)—lived in a very challenging time. He saw that religious practice in Israel was becoming unfaithful to the people’s covenant with God. At the same time, the powerful Assyrian empire was taking over small kingdoms, and it was coming straight toward Israel. Ultimately, in the aftermath, Israel was destroyed. The nation suffered a time of defeat and exile.
Isaiah had the courage to express the truth that the people did not want to hear. People were being unfaithful, and he told them that there were consequences to their unfaithfulness. For Isaiah, the true test of faith was how the nation treated those who lived in poverty, who lived without a family, or who lived as strangers in the land. Isaiah taught that faith matters, justice matters, and faithfulness to God matters. Isaiah also described a messiah who would come to serve and redeem the people.
The book of Isaiah spans centuries of Israel’s history (so it could not actually have been written by the same author). The first half describes the faithlessness of the people and their defeat; the second half emphasizes the faithfulness of God and the hope of return. The time of exile was very significant for Israel. Many of the books of scripture were written around this time, and theologies were solidified and clarified. The book of Isaiah contributed in an enduring way to an understanding of God that emerged from the aftermath of devastation.
When we meet John the Baptist proclaiming the kingdom of God in the lead-up to Jesus’ birth, he is described in Isaiah’s words: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make [God’s] paths straight’” (Matthew 3:3). During this season of Advent, we remember Isaiah’s call to faithful living and his promise that God would send others to help us live in God’s ways.
- When have you felt defeated and alone?
- Isaiah said that a faithful nation cared for those who lived in poverty, without a family, or as strangers in the land. Give some examples that you know of—or suggest some additions to this list.
- Which of Isaiah’s images most appeals to you: turning swords into plowshares (or farm tools), the wolf living with the lamb, or preparing a straight path for the Lord? Why?