The character of Isaiah ben Amoz is of a prophet who towered above his contemporaries, a giant among the biblical prophets, one who challenged the nation of Judah to follow the ethical and religious will of God. As such, he is a primary example of how the Jewish prophets engaged themselves with the social and political events of their time expressing an impassioned concern for following a life governed by God’s laws and precepts.
He was very much involved in the political events of his time. We read in Isaiah 7:1-16 of the role he played in encouraging King Ahaz of Judah during an attack by King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel when they attempted to conquer Jerusalem. They besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him. (2 Kings 16:5)
It is at this point that Isaiah explains that the Lord will provide a sign (of his support) in verse 7:14—“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God with us” and this verse is therefore believed to be a prophecy pointing to the birth of Yeshua, although in the context of the text it is a sign that Ahaz’s enemies will be destroyed.
Although he had access to the royal family, Isaiah was still the mouthpiece of the people. He spoke up for the orphans and widows when he said, (1:16-17) “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
During the reign of King Hezekiah when the city of Jerusalem was under siege by the Assyrians, Hezekiah introduced comprehensive religious reforms gaining Isaiah’s support, but when Hezekiah turned to Egypt to form an alliance against Assyria, Isaiah withdrew his support saying that such moves reflected a lack of faith in the Lord.
The Assyrian invasion was by the hand of King Sennacherib who had succeeded in capturing many of the outlying walled cities and taking possibly as many as 200,000 captives but he did not succeed in entering Jerusalem which he however, besieged. The following account of what occurred is recorded in Isaiah 36:4-10:
The field commander said to them, “Tell Hezekiah:
“‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have counsel and might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. But if you say to me, “We are depending on the Lord our God”—isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, “You must worship before this altar”? “‘Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses—if you can put riders on them! How then can you repulse one officer of the least of my master’s officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.’”
Hezekiah responded by tearing his clothes, putting on sackcloth and entering the Temple. He sent messengers to seek Isaiah’s help. Isaiah responded: “Tell your master, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! I am going to put a spirit in him so that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword’” (verses 6-7). In this Isaiah was demonstrating his faith in God by boldly declaring the downfall of the Syrian King.
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