John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: April 3

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: April 3

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The Greatness of Isaiah as a prophet, and his magnificence as a poet, may well awaken a strong desire to be acquainted with his history, and even to realize some idea of his person. We may acknowledge that there is no person named in the Old Testament whom we should more desire to see; and one day we hope to see him. This desire is less strongly felt in regard to the individuals whose personal history and trials the Scripture brings before us; not because they are less interesting, but because as we read we form to ourselves an idea of their persons, and with the image thus furnished, we are, for the most part, satisfied. But it is not so with men known chiefly for greatness of thought and utterance, with which the mind can for itself associate no personal ideas. If the incidents of their career and the details of their personal conduct are too few to suggest a notion, right or wrong, of their persons, we feel more strongly than in the case of men of action the need of some description or revelation concerning them, such as may supply that which the mind is unable to furnish from its own resources.

This being the class of persons we most desire to behold, Isaiah, as the first of that class in the Old Testament—highest in inspiration—grandest in utterance—and most powerful in his hold upon the minds of those conversant with his soul—is the one whom we may most wish to see face to face. That hope we must dismiss for the present; and there is no physiognomy in the few facts we know of him.

Isaiah was the son of Amoz. There was a remarkable prophet called Amos, and in regard to time, Isaiah might have been his son. But it was not so. There is a very essential difference in the names, which common readers may be apt to overlook. The prophet’s name is Amos, whereas the name of Isaiah’s father is Amoz or Amotz. This is too plain to be disputed; yet some of the Jewish rabbinical interpreters still make out a prophetical descent for Isaiah, in accordance with their own singular canon, that when the father of a prophet is named, the father was himself a prophet. The ancient Jews, however, were not behind the moderns in the desire to find an illustrious birth for men of intellectual or spiritual greatness—as if such greatness were not in itself enough, or as if high birth could in any degree enhance it. Genius—to use the conventional word for God’s greatest gift—is indeed often associated with high rank; but in that union, it is not rank that honors genius, but genius that glorifies rank. It has thus been sought to be made out that Isaiah was even of royal birth; but for this there is nothing better than a rabbinical tradition, which affirms that he was the son of Amoz, a brother of King Amaziah. The tradition seems to have been formed to account better for the high standing of the prophet in the court of King Hezekiah. But it is possible to furnish a reason for the high estimation in which a prophet, so honored of God as Isaiah, was held by so pious a king as Hezekiah, without resort to such an explanation—which is even without so much foundation in probability as might be found in the fact that the king had a brother called Amoz—for even this is a pore conjecture. Under such conjectures, we might make of biography, and of history too, anything we pleased; and the comparatively austere but needful rules of modern criticism will not admit them for a moment. It seems clear that Isaiah was a native of the kingdom of Judah; and that his ordinary abode was at Jerusalem, is evident from several passages of his prophecies, from which it also appears that he was married, that two sons were born to him in the reign of Ahaz, and that he gave names to them symbolical of important future events in the history of the Jews. Note: Isa_7:3; Isa_8:1; Isa_8:4.

The prophetic career of Isaiah seems to have covered a large and interesting portion of historical time. The introductory verse describes him as prophesying in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. The vision in Isaiah 6, which has every appearance of having been his introduction to the prophetic office, is dated “in the year that King Uzziah died.” It has, however, been inferred that Isaiah had for some time previously been engaged in public affairs, as it is expressly stated in 2Ch_26:22, that he composed the complete annals of Uzziah’s reign. The force of this conclusion is not very manifest, as it is by no means necessary that a historian should take part in, or even be contemporary with, the events he records. There is, however, no reason to doubt that he was of adult age when called to the prophetic office in the last year of Uzziah’s reign. We have, further, an explicit historical statement that he was engaged in his high work till the fifteenth year of Hezekiah, when he was charged with a message to that king concerning the reception he had given to the ambassadors from Babylon. Isaiah 39. Uzziah died in 759 B.C., and the fifteenth year of Hezekiah coincides with 712 B.C. It is therefore certain, that, on the lowest computation, Isaiah exercised the prophetic office for forty-seven years, being one year under Uzziah, sixteen years under Jotham, the same under Ahaz, and fifteen years under Hezekiah. But it is probable that he lived much longer. In 2Ch_32:32, it is declared that “the rest of the acts of Hezekiah” were written “in the vision of Isaiah,” which appears to imply that he survived the king, and wrote the acts of his reign up to his death. As Hezekiah lived fourteen or fifteen years after the above circumstance, this would enlarge Isaiah’s public career to sixty-one or sixty-two years. If he survived Hezekiah, he probably lived some time into the reign of Manasseh. This supposition is confirmed, not by any direct Scriptural evidence, but by all the traditional accounts which have been handed down to us, which allege that he was put to death in the time of Manasseh by being sawn asunder. If this be true, and supposing him to have been not more than twenty-five years old, when he commenced to exercise the high functions to which he had been called, he could not well have been less than ninety years of age at the time of his death—probably rather more than less.

The common Jewish account is, that the offence alleged against the aged prophet was that he had said he had seen Jehovah; for which it was urged that he ought to die, in accordance with Exo_33:20, “No man can see my face and live.” But we doubt that this peculiarly rabbinical mode of forcing the sense of Scripture had such early origin; and of all the kings that ever reigned, Manasseh seems to have been least likely to have sought the real or supposed sanction of the law for his proceedings. The idolatrous abominations of that king could hardly fail to draw forth an indignant protest from the venerable prophet, if then alive; and in that case, it is scarcely probable that so fearless and authoritative a witness against iniquity in high places, would escape sharing the doom of the numerous worthy victims, whose innocent blood filled the streets of Jerusalem. The testimony of Josephus, also, points in this direction when he says, that Manasseh “barbarously slew all the righteous men that were among the Hebrews; nor would he spare the prophets, for he every day slew some of them, till Jerusalem was overflowed with innocent blood.”

That Isaiah was sawn asunder, as the Jews allege, we should have been inclined to doubt, on the ground that there does not appear to have been any such mode of inflicting the punishment of death among this people. But St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, counts being “sawn asunder’’ among the deaths to which the ancient saints had been subjected: and as Isaiah is the only one to whom this death has been ascribed, it seems likely that the traditional memory of the fact existed in the time of the apostle, who thus gives to it his inspired sanction. It is, therefore, a point which we shall not question, although it cannot positively be affirmed as a fact, any more than the statement that this dreadful death was inflicted with a wooden saw, in order to increase the torture and protract the agony.

We are further told that the corpse of thus chief of prophets was buried hard by Jerusalem, under the Fuller’s Oak, near the Fountain of Siloam; whence it was in a later age removed to Paneas, near the sources of the Jordan; and that it was eventually transferred, in A.D. 404, to Constantinople; but in all this there is nothing on which we can rely.

This is all that history knows and all that tradition pretends to know, of the life, the death, and the sepulture of Isaiah.