Readingthebook of Isaiah is particularly apropos during the Christmas Holidays, since it has so much to say about the coming of the Messiah.
Following the passing of Elijah and Elisha (whose preaching had been purely oral) in the ninth century B.C., the influence of a new type of spiritual leadership began to emerge in the eight century, with the appearance of such prophets as Amos, Hosea and Isaiah. Their work formed a vital link in the history of Israel, between the remote period of Moses and the Law, and the time when the moral strength of the growing Hebrew nation would be severely tested against the aggressive materialistic ways of very powerful nations near and far: Assyria, Babylonia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Persia, Scythia, and others.
These prophets put their message in words, often in language that is quite poetical and beautiful. Taken as a group, they did much to prepare the thought of the Hebrew people for the New Testament concept of a God of Love, a universal God; in contrast to the basically war-like, national Diety of the Old Testament.
So convinced were these prophets that their commission was divine, coming directly from God, that they could with confidence proclaim "Thus saith the Lord" and proceed to denounce evil, and champion the good in human affairs.
THE THREE ISAIAHS
Bible scholars have concluded that at least two, and perhaps three, writers contributed to composing the majestic Book of Isaiah.
The first, whom they call "Isaiah of Jerusalem," was active from 742 to 700 B.C., and wrote chapters 1 to 39.
Chapters 40 to 55 are credited to an unknown, but deeply spiritual writer and preacher, whom scholars identify as the Second Isaiah. There is general agreement that this incomparable prophet lived during the Exile of Babylon, in the sixth century B.C. perhaps two hundred years after the original Isaiah's work was composed.
Chapters 56 to 66 were written by the writer, or group of writers, whom scholars call the Third Isaiah. Written in poetry (as are many of the prophetic books of the Old Testament), Third Isaiah makes no reference to Babylon but seems to indicate that some of the exiles, to whom he refers as "the outcasts of Israel" (Isa 56:8) had already returned to Palestine.
While the first and third Isaiahs write mostly about the restoration of Israel, and counsel the Hebrew people to forsake the worship of idols, and to return to the worship of the one true spiritual God, all three write eloquently about the coming of the Messianic Age, with a special emphasis by the Second Isaiah, on the coming of John the Baptist. Better than half the words that comprise the libretto of Handle's "Messiah" come directly from Isaiah.
THE FIRST ISAIAH: Chapters 1-39 – Memorable Quotes
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be call Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of peace.
Isaiah 11: 1-4, 6–9)
1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
2 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord:
3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth:
6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's den.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
THE SECOND ISAIAH: chapters 40 - 55 – Memorable Quotes
Isaiah 40: 1-5
1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
3 ¶ The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
Isaiah 42: 6, 7, 16
6 I the Lord have thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;
7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out the prison house.
16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light about them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.
Isaiah 52: 7
7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth.
Isaiah 54: 13
13 "And all the children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children."
THE THIRD ISAIAH (chapters 56-66) – Memorable Quotes
Isaiah 56: 1
1 Keep ye judgement and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.
Isaiah 60: 1
1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Isaiah 61: 1, 3
1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.
Isaiah 65: 17-25
17 For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
18 But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
19 And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.
20 There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
22 They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them.
24 And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.
Note: I am indebted to Bible scholar Thomas Leishman and his book "Prophetic Writings" in writing this piece.