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 surviving region was made into an Assyrian province (Samerina). The upper class was deported to Babylonia and Media (2 Kings 17:6), and a new upper class was imported from Babylonia and possibly Syria as well (2 Kings 17:24). It was this great northern destruction that caused Isaiah's contemporary Micah to wail: "Because of this I will lament and wail; I will go stripped and naked! I will lament as sadly as the jackals, as mournfully as the ostriches. For her [the nation's] wound is incurable, it has reached Judah, it has spread to the gate of my people, to Jerusalem" (Micah 1:8‑9).

Isaiah Goes Naked to Illustrate the Consequences of Judah's Rebellion.

Several years later, in 714 B.C.E., a different revolt broke out in southern Palestine‑led by the city of Ashdod. This event is recorded in Isaiah 20. Once again the prophet took an active part, dramatizing the dangerous consequences of impetuous revolt against Assyria.

His symbolic and excessive performance (he went "naked and barefoot for three years," verse 31) probably had a greater popular impact than his ongoing oracles to the people of Judah to trust the Lord for victory and not to rely upon the words and weapons of Egypt (Isaiah 30‑32). Isaiah's warnings proved true. Sargon II smashed the coalition in 712 B.C.E., and while Judah participated in the event, there was no Assyrian action against her.

Assyria's Siege of Jerusalem

This was not the case, however, during the stormy political events of 701 B.C.E. In response to a widespread revolt in Palestine, Philistia, and Egypt that followed the death of Sargon II (705 B.C.E.), King Sennacherib of Assyria (701‑681 B.C.E.) invaded Judah and besieged Jerusalem.

Isaiah's Oracle of Deliverance to King Hezekiah

Subject to taunts and destruction, King Hezekiah of Judah sought the word of God from Isaiah and received a prophecy of the salvation and deliverance of Zion. This miraculous episode is recorded in Isaiah 36‑38, but the reprieve did not save Judah from subjugation, tribute, and loss of territory (2 Kings 18:13‑16). The price of political activism was vassalage, for Isaiah's great appeal for trust in God's plan was ignored.

Isaiah, Court Prophet and Scribe?

Following these critical events, Isaiah's voice fell silent. His direct access to King Ahaz (Isaiah 7:3‑24), his familiarity with Shevna, the royal chamberlain (22:15), and his prominent position during the reign of King Hezekiah, when he was summoned to provide oracles for the city and prayers for the king (Isaiah 37‑38), suggest that Isaiah had some court position‑possibly of a scribal nature. It is of interest, in this regard, that the Chronicler refers to him as a royal historian: "The other events of Uzziah's reign, early and late, were recorded by the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz" (2 Chronicles 26:22). From this vantage point, he responded to the turns of political power with God's word to him.

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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.