Questions and observations for discussion:
1. What do we know about Isaiah with regard to his background and ministry as a prophet?
Basic facts of his life may be gleaned not only from Isaiah itself but also 2 Kings 18:13-21.
His father was a certain Amoz. He was born most likely in Jerusalem around 760 B.C. He received his call in the year that King Uzziah died (Isaiah 6:1). He refers to his wife curiously as “prophetess” (Isaiah 8:3). His ministry extended over about forty years during the reigns of Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah and the last reference to him is Hezekiah appeal to him when Sennacherib was threatening Jerusalem (ca. 701 B.C.). His easy access to the king and the court suggests that he belonged to the aristocracy. Since his call came to him in the temple it is possible that he was a priest. A legend has it that he was put to death by being sawed in half. It is impossible to substantiate.
2. How is Isaiah’s call particularly striking? What is unique about it?
He had a profound sense of his unworthiness when given the vision of God which was responded to by purification with a live coal from the alter. When God called him his response was free and unconditional. Perhaps the burning coal pressed to his mouth not only served as a means of cleansing, but also as an intimation of the burning messages he would have to deliver to Israel.
3. What sort of character did Isaiah display with regard to his commitment to God’s call?
In his reference to his wife as prophetess and also to his giving of symbolic names to his two sons as a part of his prophecy to Israel one can see that his whole family were a part of his ministry. His adamant rejection of Ahaz’ alliance with Syria was not politically motivated but based on his deep conviction that faith in God was a sufficient basis for protection. He was fearless in the presence of power and consistent in his messages.
4. What were the great themes of his messages?
We find that he focused particularly on God’s sovereignty (Isaiah 2:8, Isaiah 2:18-21) and holiness (Isaiah 6:3). He saw human sin for its moral depravity for which sacrifices could not atone without repentance (Isaiah 1:11-15). The only remedy for humankind’s selfishness and self-reliance is faith in Yahweh: “If you will not believe, you will not be established” (Isaiah 7:9). In spite of punishment for all the unfaithfulness of Israel he names one of his sons Shear-Jashub which expressed the promise that “A remnant will return” (Isaiah 7:3). Greatest of all for us are his messianic prophecies, especially Isaiah 42 (Which Jesus explicitly applies to himself) and Isaiah 53.