A Family Historian’s Approach to the Prophet Isaiah: Part 1

When researching my ancestors I start with what I know. The same is true for studying Isaiah and his writings.

When I begin family history research I usually know two things—they look very old and very dead.  Isaiah, as you can see from this Russian icon from the early 1900s, is no exception.

Close-up of Russian Icon of the Prophet Isaiah, early 1900s

The third thing I know is that Isaiah wrote a great deal (sixty-six chapters in my KJV Bible). I am not used to his writing style which is fully of symbolism.

Next I supplement what I know with a little research….

Isaiah’s Early Life

The Prophet Isaiah by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Isaiah was born in Jerusalem in 770 B.C., about 300 years after David killed Goliath and about 150 before Lehi left Jerusalem. Rabbinical literature says he was a nephew of King Amaziah of Judah and thus a cousin of King Uzziah whose life history Isaiah wrote.

Isaiah’s Call

The year Uzziah died, 740 B.C., Isaiah had a vision of the Lord and received his call to be a prophet. He served through the reigns of King Jotham, wicked King Ahaz, good King Hezekiah and probably into the reign of Manasseh also. He was married to “the Prophetess” and had two sons, Shear-Jashub (whose name means ‘a remnant shall return’) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (which means ‘hasten to the spoil’).

Isaiah’s Family Tree Chart by Jessica Coupé

Wars and Rumours of War

When Isaiah was about thirty-eight years old King Ahaz made a pact with the Assyrians. The neighbouring countries of Syria and Israel were not happy and marched on Judah. The King’s son and some of his officials were slain. Both countries took many of Judah’s people captive. A prophet in Samaria, Oded, convinced the city leaders to return the people of Judah to their homeland unharmed 2 Chronicles 28.

It was at this time Isaiah was sent to King Ahaz with his famous prophecy of a virgin conceiving a child. Many think the first instance of this prophecy’s fulfillment was with the birth of Isaiah’s second son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz .  The second instance, as cited by the Apostle Matthew, was with Mary of Nazareth and the conception of Jesus.

After Ahaz’s death, King Hezekiah reopened the temple. The people prospered for a time even as the neighbouring country of Israel was invaded by the Assyrians and its people taken captive. The captive Israelites disappeared from history and came to be known as the ‘lost ten tribes’.

When King Hezekiah was near death he prayed to the Lord and the Lord, speaking through Isaiah, granted him fifteen additional years.

During Hezekiah’s reign, in 701 B.C., the Assyrians invaded and sacked many of Judah’s cities. Jerusalem was spared by divine intervention 2 Kings 19:35.

Isaiah’s Death

King Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, was also Isaiah’s grandson according to Rabbinical literature (the son of his daughter Hepzibah). Manasseh wasn’t a very good king, the Bible tells us, and killed many innocent people 2 Kings 21:16.

It is said in the Rabbinical literature that the Prophet Isaiah was among those Manasseh ordered slain. Isaiah hid in a hollow cedar tree but the soldiers saw the hem of his tunic and cut down the tree with Isaiah inside. This is why in some icons Isaiah is shown holding a saw. Some cite Hebrews 11:37 as referencing Isaiah’s death.

My next post will look at understanding Isaiah’s writings.