John Calvin dedicated his commentary on Isaiah "to his serene highness, Edward Sixth, King of England...". In the dedication he commended the king for his godliness and petitioned him to actively give assistance to those who teach the truth, recalling that Isaiah, even during the reign of good rulers, "never ceased to be harassed by sharp and troublesome disputes, and to undergo severe conflicts, so hard and uncommon is it for men to assent to sound doctrine; and not only so, but they who resolve to discharge the prophetic office honestly and faithfully must carry on a continual war with the world." 1
All the prophets experienced the same difficulty in delivering God's message. Their circumstances varied a great deal but they and their words engendered opposition and hatred in every case. They were accused of being "unpatriotic" and negative. The charges against them usually appeared to be true and reasonable and often their predictions of judgment came to pass years after they were made.
Isaiah ministered during the 8th century B.C. and was a prominent figure in the court of the kings of Judah. Kings Uzziah and Jotham were favorable to him although not as thorough in their attempted reforms as they should have been. Ahaz was his most distracting enemy. He was crafty and hypocritical. Isaiah's most severe condemnations were brought out by this faithless and desperate king.
Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, amazingly, was the ruler most helpful and receptive to the prophet, probably because he was reared by believing nurses and teachers. He was an unusually humble man for a king and listened to the Word with reverence. He looked for God's favor and attempted to support righteous policies throughout his reign.
Manasseh was supposedly Isaiah's son-in-law. This wicked king was the one who hated the prophet and his message without reservation. His religion was Jewish tradition. He didn't want to hear things that challenged the status of his race or nation. Legend says he finally had Isaiah executed as a public enemy.
Isaiah was called by God in [about] 739 B.C., during the rule of King Uzziah. He worked until the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 B.C. One of his primary points of emphasis was the absolute and fascinating holiness of God and His call to us for obedience. [Ch.6]
A related theme, and one he repeated often before the kings, was the requirement for commitment to God and an active trust in Him. He warned against foreign alliances as a means to gain security. Even his most favorable royal friend, Hezekiah, failed to take this to heart and his frequent alarms about the consequences of ignoring this requirement came near his life's end.
The most wonderful and the finest parts of his prophetic message were the assurances and promises he gave about God saving a "remnant" by sending the Messiah. Nowhere in the whole Bible is there a clearer description of Messiah's life and work than what we find in chapter 53. The substitution of the Messiah's life for our miserable lives is made perfectly understandable and the satisfaction of Divine justice is shown to be as necessary as it is complete.
Isaiah's life was a demonstration of God's actual presence with His people. Even the prophet's children were named as sermons to the elect, Shear-jashub [A remnant shall return, 7:3] and Maher-shalal-hash-baz [Swift is the booty, speedy the prey, 8:3]. These very names shouted a warning to any who would listen. The warning was to trust exclusively in the Lord or downfall and destruction is certain.
We see no carefulness about offending men or kings in these prophets. Modern messengers who depend on large and regular gifts in order to maintain TV and other public ministries bear no discernable likeness to them. Our job is to open our ears to what they said so long ago and pray that we might benefit from their faithful message.
Today we have the unspeakably wonderful knowledge of the Prophet to whom all of these men-of-old were pointing. We have been afforded the privilege of seeing and hearing Jesus Christ, the Messiah, in the pages of Scripture. We are told that this is a greater blessing than anything the past ever possessed. [II Pet.1:19-21, Matt.12:42]
Rev. Dale K. Dykema
- John Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah, Wm.B.Eerdmans Publ., Grand Rapids, 1958, p.xx.