BACKGROUND OF THE PROPHET ISAIAH
It was said that Isaiah’s ministry lasted for about sixty years and that he supposedly died under the terrible reign of Manasseh. Jewish tradition says that he was brutally martyred by being placed in a hollowed trunk of a tree and then “sawed in two.”
Reading through the book of Isaiah one is impressed with his vivid sense of the majesty of God. When we look into Isaiah chapter 40 we will see that he compares God to how we think in terms of greatness, and then he says that there is no comparison.
One of the main things that Isaiah is speaking against is the outward forms of religion with no inward reality. Reading through Isaiah one is impressed with qualities like “boldness, patriotism, tenderness, broad sympathy, stormy indignation at hypocrisy, with deep spirituality and a profound sense of the Divine majesty.” Isn’t this something missing today in our churches and meetings together? Are not these the things of character that should be more in our preaching today?
When Isaiah began his preaching career several things were happening in Israel. The ten tribes (Israel) were nearing destruction by Assyria whose capital was Nineveh. They were desperate times.
Israel joined with Syria under the leadership of Damascus. Judah would not join so Israel and Syria invaded Judah to coerce Ahaz, the king of Judah, to join the confederacy. So we find Ahaz making a treaty with Assyria and marching forth to overthrow Syria and Israel. So Judah then became dependent on Assyria.
Later Hezekiah rebelled against the King of Assyria. Isaiah was always advocating that Judah’s dependence should be upon Jehovah and not some earthly monarch. However, the king of Assyria came to lay low Judah and since Egypt failed to respond to help, Judah had to buy off the King of Assyria with gold, etc. and so again became dependent upon Assyria.
Later when Assyria was coming to attack Judah and Jerusalem Hezekiah heeded Isaiah’s advice and trusted in the Lord to deliver them from this ‘present danger’ coming upon them in the form of Assyrian army. The result was that God sent His angel and a great disaster fell upon the army, and from which King Sennacherib never recovered.
Judah was freed from the threat of invasion and enjoyed a season of peace.
When we come to Isaiah 40 we see that there is turn in God’s approach to His people. They have repented and now are turning back to God and so we read in Isaiah 40:1-2: “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.’”
Later we have the words: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’” Isaiah 40:3
The same words are repeated in Matthew 3:3 “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him,’” referring to John Baptist prior to the first coming of the Lord.
In reading through Isaiah 40 one sees what ‘reformation’ will do and what is needed today.