Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” [Isaiah 6:8 (NLT)]
By the time of Isaiah, the Neo-Assyrian empire was the largest one the world had known. Famed for their incredible military strength, tactics, and ruthlessness, the Assyrians were a thorn in the side of both Israel and Judah and both kingdoms lived in fear of them. Assyria’s defeat of Samaria in 722 meant the end of the northern kingdom of Israel and Assyria remained a threat to Judah in the years that followed.
Shortly after envoys from Babylon visited Jerusalem and King Hezekiah foolishly displayed Judah’s wealth to them, Isaiah prophesized that all of Jerusalem’s treasures would be carried off to Babylon and that Hezekiah’s descendants would be taken there and made to serve its king. Since Babylonia was dominated by Assyria and their king was a powerless vassal, Isaiah’s prophecy probably seemed preposterous to Hezekiah. Thinking he could rest easy since it wasn’t going to happen on his watch (and hardly seemed likely to happen at all), Hezekiah remained unconcerned, saying “At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” [2 Kings 20:19]
The Neo-Babylonian empire, however, began to rise during Hezekiah’s son’s reign. Babylonia defeated Assyria, destroyed Nineveh, and became the most powerful state in the world. Around 605, Babylon began its conquest of Judah and the first group of Judeans were exiled. After Judah rebelled against Babylon’s rule, Jerusalem was again besieged by the Babylonians and, nearly 100 years after Isaiah’s prophecy during the reign of Hezekiah’s great-grandson Jehoiachin, the king and his family were taken as captives to Babylon, all of the treasures in the Temple and palace were seized, and more Judeans were exiled. Finally, in 586 BC, Jerusalem fell, the Temple was destroyed, and Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar II took nearly all of Judah captive.
That Judah would be conquered by Babylon had seemed unbelievable when Isaiah warned of it more than a century earlier! As unbelievable as that may have seemed, nearly 150 years before it happened, Isaiah prophesized that a coalition of Elamites and Medes would attack and lay siege to Babylon and that Babylon would fall to the Medes. 200 years before Persia’s King Cyrus was even born, Isaiah prophesized that Cyrus’ kingdom would be a mighty one and specifically named him as the one who would set the Judean exiles free, rebuild Jerusalem, and restore the Temple. At the time, these prophecies seemed improbable, if not impossible. The Persian Empire didn’t exist at the time and neither Elam nor Media had yet become part of its realm. By 539, however, Persia’s kingdom extended across 2,000 miles and included the territories of both the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. 150 years after Isaiah’s prophecy, Babylon fell and Cyrus allowed the first group of exiles to return to Jerusalem. What once seemed unbelievable actually did happen!
God gave Isaiah incredible visions and the prophet put those visions into words and passed them on to the people. His more than 120 prophecies ranged from the present to the future to the very end of times, from impending judgment to restoration to a new heaven and earth. Have you ever paused to consider what it was like to be Isaiah—to receive those amazing, inexplicable, and seemingly impossible messages from God? For nearly sixty years, Isaiah prophesized to a mostly unbelieving people of inconceivable things like rebuilding both Jerusalem and the Temple when neither had been destroyed. After speaking of a virgin conceiving a child who would be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” he told of a suffering servant who “would be pierced for our rebellion” and “crushed for our sins.” He said that the “Galilee of the Gentiles” would be filled with glory and that the Lord would “punish the world by fire and his sword.” What was it like to speak of such strange things? Did Isaiah even understand or know the particulars or means of all that he prophesized? Nevertheless, he remained faithful to the task even if he didn’t understand all that he was saying.
Most of us hesitate to trust God with tomorrow but Isaiah trusted God’s words until the end of time. Can we ever be as obedient and trusting as Isaiah? Will we ever speak as boldly?
The most critical need of the church at this moment is men, bold men, free men. The church must seek, in prayer and much humility, the coming again of men made of the stuff of which prophets and martyrs are made. [A.W. Tozer]