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The Structure of the Book of Isaiah

In September, 2010, I gave a series of 7 talks on the book of Isaiah at “Word Works”, a conference organised by the Malaysia Gospel Growth Fellowship. The aim of the talks was to give an overview of Isaiah with a view to helping people read this part of the Bible for themselves. I’ll be publishing the talks soon; to help people digest the talks, I’m posting here my structure for the book of Isaiah which I referred to throughout the conference. You can also download the table as a PDF.

Section of book Key date Key historical crisis Bible references to key historical crisis Choice created by key historical crisis
Chs 1-12 734 BC Alliance of Ephraim* and Syria against Judah** Isaiah 7

2 Kings 16

Ask Assyria for help
OR
Rely on the Lord?
Chs 13-27 713-711 BC Philistine revolt against Assyria, backed by Egypt Isaiah 20 Join the nations
OR
Rely on the Lord?
Chs 28-35 ~ 704 BC Judah’s revolt against Assyria led by Hezekiah and aided by Egypt Isaiah 31:1

2 Kings 18:7-8

Rely on Egypt for help
OR
Rely on the Lord?
Chs 36-37

(Historical pivot, pointing back)

701 BC Assyrian siege of Jerusalem (Zion) Isaiah 36-39

2 Kings 18:13-19:37

Give in to Assyria
OR
Rely on the Lord?
Chs 38-39

(Historical pivot, pointing forward)

587 BC Babylonian exile foreshadowed by arrival of Babylonian envoys 2 Kings 20:1-19

2 Kings 25

Make alliance with Babylon
OR
Rely on the Lord?
Ch 40 – 51:11 537 BC Persian king Cyrus conquers Babylon and issues decree for Judah to return home Isaiah 45:1-4

Ezra 1:1-4

Stay in exile (with Babylonian idols)
OR
Return home to the Lord?
51:12 – Ch 55 537-516 BC Initial return of Israelites from Babylon to Jerusalem (Zion) Isaiah 52:7-12

Ezra 1:5-11

Wake up and receive God’s salvation!
Chs 56-66 516 BC Rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (Zion) Isaiah 64:11-12

Ezra Ch. 3, 5:1-2, Ch. 6

Back to the old days
OR
Live in the light of the final glory?

*Ephraim is another name for the northern kingdom of Israel, because it was the major tribe
**Judah is the southern kingdom of Israel

Adapted from Webb, Barry G. W. “Zion in Transformation: a Literary Approach to Isaiah.” Pages 65-84 in The Bible in three dimensions: essays in celebration of forty years of Biblical studies in the University of Sheffield. Edited by David J. A. Clines, Stephen E. Fowl, and Stanley E. Porter. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990.

Published inIsaiah

4 Comments

  1. Hi Lionel, at first glance, this looks like a really helpful table. I’ve downloaded it and put it in my Isaiah sermon file.

    Can I ask regarding the dates, does this presume a deutero-Isaiah (Isaianic prophetic successor) in the second half of the book? I am open to the possibility of something like that being consistent with evangelical presuppositions, but only very cautiously.

    Thanks for your insights.

    • Hi Sandy,

      Hey, at least one download, thanks! The table only indicates the various historical backgrounds to which the book of Isaiah at each point is being addressed; the dates are not meant to imply dates of composition. This table would only need to imply the existence of a “Deutero-Isaiah” for those who assume there is no such thing as predictive prophecy in any sense. Most of the dates are drawn from Barry Webb’s commentary and article, and Barry himself believes that the historical 8th-century BC Isaiah was the decisive figure behind the composition of the entire book as it stands. I address these issues more in the talks which I’ll upload over the coming days and weeks.

      Cheers,
      Lionel

  2. George Athas

    Thanks for this, Lionel. I notice you put the key date for chs. 38–39 as 587 BC. I assume you’re saying there that these chapters are looking ahead to that time, not that they are set in that time. Chronologically those chapters are earlier than chs. 36–37.

    • Yes George, certainly. Thanks for the clarification. The key dates aren’t necessarily the dates of the action or composition in each section; they’re the dates of the most significant historical event that needs to be understood to make sense of what’s being said in that section – here, I’ve decided it’s the exile to Babylon mentioned in 39:5-7.

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