However, the most significant prophet of the 8th century is Isaiah. There is much debate about dating Isaiah, and splitting up the book into two or three sections. While I am sort of convinced by Barry Webb’s argument (The Message of Isaiah) for the unity of the book, there are many evangelical scholars who see good reason for splitting it (including those who teach at the same college as Barry). I will generally treat Isaiah as a single book, but will highlight where splitting it could affect the development of the themes.
The first thing we see is a continuation of the theme of judgement against Israel – God will bring devastation upon her because of her evil. We also see extended oracles of judgement against other nations (Isa 15-24). Isaiah takes on a more international view than his predecessors. He declares that Assyria’s invasion is not just a punishment for Israel, but also a judgement on Aram (Isa 7:20; 8:4-7). God is showing that he is capable of using one evil nation to punish another, outside of any involvement from his people.
However, a notable development is the strong condemnation of Assyria:
5 Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger– the staff in their hands is My wrath. 6 I will send him against a godless nation; I will command him to go against a people destined for My rage, to take spoils, to plunder, and to trample them down like clay in the streets. 7 But this is not what he intends; this is not what he plans. It is his intent to destroy and to cut off many nations.
12 But when the Lord finishes all His work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, He will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for his arrogant acts and the proud look in his eyes.” 13 For he said: I have done this by my own strength and wisdom, for I am clever. I abolished the borders of nations and plundered their treasures; like a mighty warrior, I subjugated the inhabitants. 14 My hand has reached out, as if into a nest, to seize the wealth of the nations. Like one gathering abandoned eggs, I gathered the whole earth. No wing fluttered; no beak opened or chirped. 15 Does an ax exalt itself above the one who chops with it? Does a saw magnify itself above the one who saws with it? As if a staff could wave those who lift it! As if a rod could lift what isn’t wood! 16 Therefore the Lord God of Hosts will inflict an emaciating disease on the well-fed of Assyria, and He will kindle a burning fire under its glory. 17 Israel’s Light will become a fire, and its Holy One, a flame. In one day it will burn up Assyria’s thorns and thistles. (Isa 10:5-7, 12-17)
This is the strongest statement yet that, while God can perform his good acts of justice through the evil acts of other nations, it does not make these nations or their actions good. God will judge them for their evil, even as he uses them for his will. We also see this pattern in regard to Babylon. In chapter 39, we learn that God would bring Babylon against Judah, yet on chapter 47 we see Babylon condemned:
1 “Go down and sit in the dust, Virgin Daughter Babylon. Sit on the ground without a throne, Daughter Chaldea! For you will no longer be called pampered and spoiled […] 6 I was angry with My people; I profaned My possession, and I placed them under your control. You showed them no mercy; you made your yoke very heavy on the elderly […] 11 But disaster will happen to you; you will not know how to avert it. And it will fall on you, but you will be unable to ward it off. Devastation will happen to you suddenly and unexpectedly. (Isa 47:1, 6, 11)
As early as chapter 13, we learn that God was raising up the Medes against Babylon (Isa 13:17), but this gains greater treatment in chapter 45:
1 The LORD says this to Cyrus, His anointed, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him, to unloose the loins of kings, to open the doors before him and the gates will not be shut: 2 “I will go before you and level the uneven places; I will shatter the bronze doors and cut the iron bars in two. 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places, so that you may know that I, the LORD, the God of Israel call you by your name. (Isa 45:1-3)
Along with God’s judgement come his promises of protection. This is shown most clearly in the account of Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem. If Webb’s structure of Isaiah is accurate, then this account is the centre of the book, if the three-Isaiah thesis is correct, then it is the closing scene of proto-Isaiah. Either way, it is holds a significant position. While Israel was being destroyed for unfaithfulness, Hezekiah’s faith is shown in his faithful prayer and obedience, and God saves Jerusalem through a direct miracle.
Things that happen to Israel on the international stage are clearly and unambiguously God’s judgement on her faithfulness – either a judgement of condemnation when she is invaded, oppressed and defeated, or a judgement of approval when she is safe and prosperous. The theological truth that lies behind this is that God is sovereign – not just over the land of Israel and Judah, but of the whole world. This can be seen in the early chapters, but becomes much more explicit from chapter 40:
15 Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are considered as a speck of dust on the scales; He lifts up the islands like fine dust. 16 Lebanon is not enough for fuel, or its animals enough for a burnt offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before Him; they are considered by Him as nothingness and emptiness.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not considered the foundations of the earth? 22 God is enthroned above the circle of the earth; its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like thin cloth and spreads them out like a tent to live in. (Isa 40:15-17, 21-22)
In the passage where God declares that he is working through Cyrus, he states:
7 I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. 8 “Heavens, sprinkle from above, and let the skies shower righteousness. Let the earth open up that salvation sprout and righteousness spring up with it. I, the LORD, have created it. […] 12 I made the earth, and created man on it. It was My hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. (Isa 45:7-8, 12)