In the 8th century BC, all was not well in Israel and Judah. Idolatry was rampant. Self-indulgence was the order of the day. The people of God had forgotten God. Sure, there was a remnant of faithful people, but they seem to have been a minority.
Israel was worse off than Judah. Israel’s political machinery was corrupt, having started off on the wrong foot under Jeroboam and never recovered. Times were dark and the knowledge of God seemed like it would be eclipsed forever. God always sees to it that he has a witness, a voice which will call people back to his ways, and in this period of time, in the Northern Kingdom, the prophets Hosea and Amos lifted their voice to call against the wickedness in the Northern kingdom, warning them of coming judgement (see Amos 1:1; 2:6-3:2; Hos.1:1-5).
In the South, Judah was having her own problems. Her politics were maginally better, having not been as corrupted as the North. Mercifully, God raised up a king who had a long and healthy reign. Uzziah was his name, and during his reign and throughout the reigns of the three kings that followed him, God also raised up a prophet who would call on the nation of Judah to follow God and to walk in his ways. This prophet was Isaiah, son of Amoz (Isa.1:1).
As God had planned, the Assyrian army had attacked and decimated the northern kingdom, and in 722 BC, the northern kingdom was carried into captivity, never to recover. This Assyrian victory to the North gave the Southern kingdom of Judah plenty to worry about. You might say it put the kingdom of Judah on edge. There was now no buffer nation to the North and the only thing that stood between them and Assyrian cruelty was the whim of the Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser III, or Pul for short.
In the midst of this political uncertainty, moral decline and imminent threat, the prophet Isaiah speaks. His book is lengthy, one of the longest in the Old Testament. It covers a broad range of themes and vacillates back and forth between prophecies of judgment and words of hope. That is not altogether unusual for prophets. What Isaiah does do that few other prophets do, however, is that he speaks of a promised one.
Incidentally, there is a lesson here in how God works. God’s words of judgment are always tinged with a message of redemption. God is honest about where your sin will take you and what it will ultimately cost you. He is open about the real price you will have to pay because of your sin. The bible speaks of judgment, of torment, of the great suffering that awaits those who revel in sin. But at the same time God also speaks hope. He is one who is ready to redeem. He tells you about judgment then he offers you hope. He tells you what life is like, and what those who love sin can expect in the life hereafter. But he also tells you that there is an alternative. God is gracious, he is willing to redeem. Isaiah speaks these truths about God over and over again to us. Read the words of Isaiah 51:1-6 and let the hope of a coming redeemer sink deep into your soul.
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
you who seek the LORD:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
that I might bless him and multiply him.
For the LORD comforts Zion;
he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the LORD;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
“Give attention to me, my people,
and give ear to me, my nation;
for a law will go out from me,
and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.
My righteousness draws near,
my salvation has gone out,
and my arms will judge the peoples;
the coastlands hope for me,
and for my arm they wait.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my righteousness will never be dismayed.”