Isaiah ben Amoz: Political Prophet (Isaiah 1-39)

Isaiah's greatness lies not only in his ethical teachings, but in his central involvement--and prophetic intervention--in the political events of his day.

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The reasons for this attack are not stated, though it is generally assumed that Aram and Israel joined as allies against Assyria and moved against Jerusalem in the hopes of overcoming Ahaz's resistance and dethroning him. Undoubtedly, this was part of a larger anti‑Assyrian alliance, in which Tyre and perhaps even Philistia joined in; but one should not dismiss long‑time rivalries between Israel, Aram, and Judah, in particular in light of Judah's expansion into Israel's trans‑Jordanian territory of Gilead during the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham. This event may have encouraged Israel to join with Aram in the hopes of weakening Judah.

Isaiah Appeals to King Ahaz: Do Not Ally with Assyria!

During the period prior to the invasion, Isaiah approaches Ahaz, who apparently intends to join forces with Assyria (2 Kings 16:7‑9; Isaiah 7:13, 20), and delivers several oracles. The prophet regards Ahaz's action as indicating a lack of faith in divine support, and he also believes that such an attack will not materialize.

In Isaiah 7:3, Isaiah goes out to the Fuller's Field with his son Shear‑Yashuv (meaning "[only] a remnant will turn back") and confronts the king with the words: "Be firm and be calm. Do not be afraid and do not lose heart on account of those two smoking stubs of firebrands, on account of the raging of Rezin and his Arameans and the son of Remaliah.... It shall not succeed, it shall not come to pass.... If you [Ahaz] will not believe, you shall not be established" (7:4‑9).

The Prophecy Concerning Immanuel

Shortly, thereafter, the prophet refers to the fact that "the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son," who should be named Immanuel ("With us is God") (7:14). It is not clear whether this is to be the prophet's own son or a royal scion; in any case, he predicts that (in a short period of time) before the lad can "reject the bad and choose the good" (7:16), the danger will pass.

"Pillage Hastens, Looting Speeds"

Another prophecy, probably also from this period of imminent siege, involves the birth of another son to the prophet (whose wife is here designated "the prophetess"). This child will be named Maher‑shalal‑hash‑baz ("pillage hastens, looting speeds")--a reference to the despoliation of Aram and Israel at the hands of Assyria (Isaiah 8:1‑3).

In 732 B.C.E., in fact, Assyria invaded and sacked Damascus, the capital of Aram. Thus was Jerusalem saved. Whatever prompted Isaiah to refer to Assyria as the agent of divine wrath against his people is not certain (see 10:5‑6); equally uncertain is the report of a military advance against Jerusalem in 10:27‑34.

Israel Revolts Against Assyria, and Falls.

The hegemony of Assyria over the western Asiatic kingdoms refueled the fires of revolt. In the year 724 B.C.E., King Hoshea of Israel decided to discontinue his tribute payments to King Shalmeneser V of Assyria and establish diplomatic ties with Egypt (2 Kings 17:4.). This proved disastrous. Shalmeneser V reacted with force and besieged Samaria. Sometime in late summer or early autumn of 722 B.C.E., Samaria buckled under the siege and fell. Shalmeneser's successor Sargon II repeatedly boasted of destroying Samaria, but it would appear that the city had already fallen.

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Michael Fishbane

Michael Fishbane is the Nathan Cummings professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago. His research spans the spectrum of biblical and Jewish studies and he has written numerous books in Jewish Studies.