Prophecy and Apocalypse in Isaiah

The Book of Isaiah, a favorite of Jesus Christ and his followers, is unique in the Tanakh. While the the author laments the fallen and sinful nature of the Israelites, he looks forward to a future of redemption wherein Jerusalem will regain its glory. The great messiah who will lead Israel out from oppressive occupation under Babylonians is identified as Cyrus the Great of Persia in Chapter 45, though followers of Jesus later interpreted this to mean Jesus Christ, rather than Cyrus.

Curiously within the book of Isaiah is contained an oft repeated line: the Lord will judge the nations of the earth. Almost certainly written in the era post judges, Isaiah is a book that identifies YHWH as a universal god. It espouses one of the earliest conceptions of monotheism. God is both universal and a judger of all nations. Humans are servile, fallen creatures in need of redemption from their own evil devices. One need not stray to far to recognize the radical reversal of archaic Hebrew traditions, as well as the striking connections to the latter day apocalyptic beliefs of the Christians.

In Isaiah we encounter the seed of a schism beginning in Judaism. God has become universal, for all places and all times. In addition, He is now regularly referred as a “redeemer” rather than a powerful Canaanite war-god, as encountered in the Torah. There is also an acknowledged decay among the culture of the Israelites as witnessed by Isaiah. They must be made to fear God, obey the laws, but also long for a future redemption from oppressive nation of Babylon. This apocalyptic future is one in which the lion will be expected to lie down with the lamb, and yet, it will also be a time of great ‘vengeance.’ The self-righteous indignation of Isaiah is most apparent when he appears as a lone voice crying in the wilderness -again, not unlike the figure of Jesus in the Gospels.

Isaiah is, above all, a book of decay.


Michelangelo’s Isaiah at the Sistine Chapel (1508-1511)

For this reading I used the King James Version.

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