Introduction to Books of the Prophets
and Study of Isaiah 1-3
July 15th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

Books of the Prophets (Overview)

The group of Prophetic books is the final section in the Old Testament – an appropriate position given that many of the prophets point to the coming of the Messiah and other events that are fulfilled in the New Testament. This section consists of sixteen books, four of which are considered the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel), while the remaining twelve are considered the Minor Prophets. The books of the Major Prophets are longer and are quoted more frequently, but presumably, in the eyes of the LORD, each prophet is equally important and equally worthy of our attention.

The Prophetic books span the time from the eight century B.C. to the fourth or fifth century B.C., thus they include perspectives from before and during the Exile to Babylon. Some of the prophets were mentioned in previous books, such as 2 Kings, but mostly in a historical context. In this section we will hear the warnings of the prophets as they assess the spiritual and moral state of the people of Isreal and Judah and warn of events to come.

In his introduction to this part of the Bible, Eugene Peterson reminds us that the prophets were not ordinary Israelites. Rather, they were "distinguished by the power and skill with which they presented the reality of God (1)." Nor did they use ordinary techniques to get people's attention:

The prophets received revelation through visions, dreams, and direct communication from the Creator. The nature of the revelations were independent of time constructs as the prophets were able to see time in a similar manner as the LORD. Sixteen of these individuals wrote down their prophecies and experiences, which were saved and stored as holy scriptures on scrolls and later by other means in an agreed canon shared by multiple faiths. The Roman Catholic tradition includes one additional prophet, Baruch, which was placed between the book Lamentations and Ezekiel. Baruch in the New American Bible.

The lives of the prophets were very different from ours, but these scriptures are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago, because we continue to be wayward people who try to fit God into our lives according to our own rules. God may understand the weaknesses in our character that lead to that behavior, but the prophets had no patience for it. They wanted to shake us out of our illusions, bring us to our knees in worship of the Almighty, and remind us that God has a role in all parts of our lives, not just a Sabbath once a week plus a few holidays. Peterson concludes his introduction to the Prophets with the following statements.

For his part, the Jewish Theologian, Abraham Herschel offers the perspective that "the importance of the prophecy lies not only in the message, but in the role of the prophet as a witness, someone who is able to make God audible and to reveal not only God's will, but inner life...The prophet hears God's voice and looks at the world from God's perspective (4)." In the introduction to the original version of his book, Herschel explains that "We cannot fully understand what they (the prophets) meant to say to us unless we have some degree of awareness of what happened to them (5)." Herschel then proposes to offer the reader help in developing this type of understanding.

The books of the sixteen prophets are not presented in chronological order. Instead, the Major Prophets are presented first, followed by the minor ones. We begin with Isaiah. Take a deep breath and prepare yourself.

Isaiah (Overview)

The book of Isaiah is the first and the most important of all the books of Prophets in the Old Testament. His ministry began around 740 B.C. and continued until about 700 B.C. His contemporaries did not always listen to him, but he is quoted more than 50 times in the New Testament.

This book marks a transition from the books of poetry to the books of prophesy. Although Isaiah does include some elements of poetry, the primary structure and purpose is to provide prophecies regarding the fate of Israel and the world.

Isaiah served during the reigns of Uziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and is mentioned in 2 Kings. Consequently, many of the events recorded in Isaiah are a recap of ones in early books, but with the perspective of a prophet who delivers God’s words regarding the times to come. For example, Isaiah warned King Ahaz not to seek an alliance with Assyria. But Ahaz was worried about the threat from Damascus and the northern kingdom, and was not so worried about God and his gadlfy prophet, so he did it anyway. As a consequence he became a subject of Assyria. In another example, Isaiah petitioned God on behalf of Hezekiah, son of Ahaz during the siege of Jerusalem. God responded with a miraculous rescue, as described in Isaiah 36-37.

When Isaiah began his ministry the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms, the Northern (Israel) and the Southern (Judah). These were prosperous times but also times of idolatry and corruption. The prophets Amos and Hosea were ministering in the north while Isaiah ministered in the south. The Northern kingdom was less faithful and was the first to fall to conquerors, as prophesized by Isaiah in this book. Isaiah also prophesizes the fall of Judah to take place at some time in the future, predicts the return of a remnant, and introduces the concept of availability of salvation through faith.

Our study of the chapters of the book of Isaiah can be divided into three major sections, the first two are further sub-divided as shown below (6):

References used for the analysis of this book include books that have been a steady source of information throughout the Old Testament, as well as one that discusses all the prophets in depth and two focused specifically on Isaiah:

The books by Robinson and Schilling are excellent references for studying the book of Isaiah. Robinson’s provides information on the context and breaks down the book chapter by chapter, while Schilling provides context and then analyzes the book by theme in a series of essays that flow nicely and are easy to follow.

Isaiah 1-3 (Swords to Plowshares)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

- And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

- Isaiah 2:4 (KJV)

Summary of Chapters

These first three chapters begin a section of twelve chapters called Oracles Against Israel, in which Isaiah prophesizes the fall of Judah and Jerusalem. The beginning of chapter 1 describes the LORD’s anger and disappointment with Israel. He says they are so far off track that he doesn’t want their sacrifices and does not hear their prayers:

“And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.(Is 1:15 - KJV).” At the end of chapter 1 the LORD says he will purge the populace of evil. He will redeem the righteous but punish the evildoers.

In chapter 2, Isaiah describes a day when the temple will once again be exalted and Zion will be recognized as the conduit of the law. He envisions a time period of worship, justice and peace:

Isaiah 2:4 (They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks) is the verse referenced in the photograph of the wall sculpture above, which can be found on one of the buildings at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City - if we seek it, the LORD's word can be found in many places that we would least expect.

Then Isaiah reminds the people of their current practices of idolatry and warns them that on the day that the LORD comes they will hide in fear. He mentions several times that the people will seek refuge in caves. “They will flee to caverns in the rock and the overhanging crags from the dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty when he rises to shake the earth (Is 2:21 - NIV).”

Chapter 3 describes some of the changes that will take place as the LORD removes supplies and water from Jerusalem and Judah. The government will be in upheaval as “boys” become officials and people turn on each other. Isaiah then describes the punishment for the beautiful be-jeweled woman who had turned from the LORD and influenced others to travel down the wrong paths. They will become bald and the LORD will tear away their jewelry.

Reflection and Application

Here is a point for reflection based on the first chapter in Isaiah. The prophet explains that if we have not fully confessed our sins to God then our prayers and sacrifices are a meaningless façade. We also saw this concept mentioned in the book of Proverbs. We believe that God always hears us, but if we have not taken this step then we have not spiritually prepared ourselves to ask God for anything. Peterson provides an insightful and contemporary translation of God's rebuke against our attitude for worship:

It's hard not to chuckle at the line, "meetings, meetings, meetings - I can't stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!" God can probably find more people readily agreeing to that point then most of his other instructions. Business people and volunteers dread meetings because these gatherings are perceived to be poorly organized events dominated by long-winded participants, and as a result, nothing seems to get accomplished. There are ways to mitigate these problems, but this is not the reason that God opposed assemblies of his people. His concern is that until folks address the root causes of their sins there is no point in trying to accomplish anything on his behalf, including prayer and worship.

The ACTS prayer model is a good framework for helping us get in the right position: Adoration, Confession, Thanks, and Supplication (requests). Only after we have recognized God are we ready to confess, and then after confessing we can see more clearly what to be grateful for. Finally, after those steps we are in our best possible position to ask something of the LORD – but should still be sure to ask only for things consistent with his will.

When is the day that the LORD will “shake the earth” as described in chapter 2? We don’t know. Israel’s world was shaken when it was conquered by the Assyrians and Babylonians. In contemporary times, our world has been shaken by war, natural disaster, and environmental accidents. Are these the events that Isaiah foresees, or is there a bigger day coming? We don’t know the day and time when it will happen, but we can prepare by praying daily, beginning with adoration and confession.

The spiritual rebellion of a nation is destined to lead to the fall of the government, as a government without justice will eventually implode or become so weak that its opponents can take it over, as predicted by Isaiah in this group of chapters. This series of events has also been seen many times in our lifetimes. We have to be careful that our own nation does not fall into this trap.

Wearing jewelry is not a sin against God. But in the case of these women of Jerusalem their love of finery became their primary focus and the objects became their idol of worship. As a result, they contributed to the undermining of religion and morals.

As we acquire clothes and accessories we can enjoy them and use them to protect our bodies and dress appropriately for occasions. However, we also ought to remind ourselves to only purchase what we truly need and not expect that our new merchandise can make us truly happy – only a relationship with God can achieve that goal.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

Related Questions
  1. What recent or historical examples come to mind regarding nations that imploded due to lack of moral clarity?
  2. What are the current spiritual challenges of the nation you live in?
  3. How can we help our peers and leaders to hear the word of God and apply it to the important decisions that affect our lives?
Recommended Prayer
Father in heaven, we know that you search us with your spirit and know what is in our hearts. We confess that we keep coming to you without acknowledging our faults. We thank you for your patience and mercy and for all of our blessings. Help us to gather together in ways that honor you.

Suggested Prayer Concerns
Meeting Coordinators


(1) Peterson, Eugene H. The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005 p.909
(2) IBID, p909
(3) IBID, p910
(4) Herschel, Abraham Joshua, The Prophets, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2001, New York, p. xiv
(5) IBID, p. xx1
(6) Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984, p. 325
(7) IBID, p. 416-418

Looking Ahead

Tomorrow's reading: Isaiah 4-8 (Branch of the LORD)

Comments and Questions
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