Understanding the prophecies of Isaiah

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Kim G

Puritan Board Junior
I have always read Isaiah in view of events that were not contemporary with Isaiah. For instance, Isaiah 7:14 referring to the virgin Mary bearing Jesus Christ, or Isaiah 13 referring to the tribulation. However, when reading Isaiah chapters 1-20 last night, I noticed that the references often seem to have immediate fulfillment.

Isaiah 7:14-17
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria."

Isaiah 8:3-4,7-10
"And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria." Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel. Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us.

This brings up many questions for me. If these things have been fulfilled, why do we look for another fulfillment? Have these things not been fulfilled? And these immediate fulfillments do not seem strictly literal (moons and stars did not really fall in Isaiah 13, a young woman conceived in chapter 8, but not necessarily a "virgin," they didn't really call the boy Immanuel, but God was with them, etc.). So how are we supposed to read the book of Isaiah?

Keep in mind that I have only learned prophecy through a dispensational lense, and after becoming non-Dispensational, I am trying to understand prophecy all over again.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
It has been argued that there could be some prophecies (by Isaiah or others) that have certain "pre-fulfillments", sort of foreshadowing fulfillments. One could say that, for instance, all calamities in this world are precursors to and partial fulfillments of the final judgment.

That being said, personally I reject the interpretation of Is. 7:14 as having another referent beside Christ. I think the passage is completely intelligible apart from a "contemporary" or any other "fulfillment."

A previous discussion here: http://www.puritanboard.com/f43/who-immanuel-18829/#post235107
 

Iconoclast

Puritan Board Junior
I have always read Isaiah in view of events that were not contemporary with Isaiah. For instance, Isaiah 7:14 referring to the virgin Mary bearing Jesus Christ, or Isaiah 13 referring to the tribulation. However, when reading Isaiah chapters 1-20 last night, I noticed that the references often seem to have immediate fulfillment.

Isaiah 7:14-17
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of As
Isaiah 8:3-4,7-10
"And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria." Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel. Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us.


This brings up many questions for me. If these things have been fulfilled, why do we look for another fulfillment? Have these things not been fulfilled? And these immediate fulfillments do not seem strictly literal (moons and stars did not really fall in Isaiah 13, a young woman conceived in chapter 8, but not necessarily a "virgin," they didn't really call the boy Immanuel, but God was with them, etc.). So how are we supposed to read the book of Isaiah?

Keep in mind that I have only learned prophecy through a dispensational lense, and after becoming non-Dispensational, I am trying to understand prophecy all over again.


The figure of the Sun,Moon , and Stars have to do goverments being completely overthrown,
Isa 13- Babylon was going to be destroyed
Isa 34:3-5 Edom destroyed> host of heaven dissolved,heavens rolled up like a scroll
same language used in Revelation 6:13-14, perhaps the destruction of Jerusalem in 70ad?
The figurative language has to do with literal judgements of God.ie, Day
of the Lord. There are several Day of the Lord's ,not just one.

Even in Joel 2 , the same language can be found and quoted by Peter in His first sermon. The fulfillment is literal but it is explained in figurative and metaphorical language many times.
 

danmpem

Puritan Board Junior
Speaking in a general sense, remember that Isaiah wrote those passages with a specific meaning at the time. It wasn't until later in the NT that they were interpreted to be prophetic. Now, before everyone gets bent out of shape over that, let me qualify it a wee bit (please excuse my strange choice of words here, I'm really tired and it's late). If it was blatantly clear that the OT writer was saying that something was going to happen in the future, it meant just that. Some of the more present-day oriented verses are the ones that were later interpreted in the NT to have at least one application.

I'm sorry. My lack of theological training leaves me at a loss for better words. I can just feel the preterists shaking their heads in disbelief, and my premil brethren silently waiting for me to go to bed.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I think I understand you , Dan. You seem to be speaking more toward the typololgy of the Old Testament rather than prophecy, strictly speaking. In that there was a recognition of a "typological" fulfillment of even more of the OT by the apostolic writers, we would certainly agree.

When, for example, Hosea writes (11:1), in the midst of a judgment denunciation of Ephraim, "Out of Egypt I called my son," Matthew (2:15) understands Hosea to be prophesying of Christ.
But in this way: even Hosea is reflecting on Israel's past, and God is saying something about his calling Israel, his son, (Ex. 4:23) out of Egypt. Christ is the embodiment of all that prefigurement; he is ISRAEL.
 

Kim G

Puritan Board Junior
When, for example, Hosea writes (11:1), in the midst of a judgment denunciation of Ephraim, "Out of Egypt I called my son," Matthew (2:15) understands Hosea to be prophesying of Christ.
But in this way: even Hosea is reflecting on Israel's past, and God is saying something about his calling Israel, his son, (Ex. 4:23) out of Egypt. Christ is the embodiment of all that prefigurement; he is ISRAEL.

Okay, I think I get what you're saying. I guess my question is still, how am I supposed to read Isaiah? He seems to jump back and forth and to the present and future and past. I know now that I should read the NT into the OT, but the entire book of Isaiah is not in the NT, is it?

If I can't understand Isaiah apart from the NT, then how do I know when Isaiah is talking about current events and when he is talking about future events?

Oi! If you can't understand my very vague question, please ignore me. I'm confusing myself. :duh::lol:
 

danmpem

Puritan Board Junior
I think I understand you , Dan. You seem to be speaking more toward the typololgy of the Old Testament rather than prophecy, strictly speaking. In that there was a recognition of a "typological" fulfillment of even more of the OT by the apostolic writers, we would certainly agree.

When, for example, Hosea writes (11:1), in the midst of a judgment denunciation of Ephraim, "Out of Egypt I called my son," Matthew (2:15) understands Hosea to be prophesying of Christ.
But in this way: even Hosea is reflecting on Israel's past, and God is saying something about his calling Israel, his son, (Ex. 4:23) out of Egypt. Christ is the embodiment of all that prefigurement; he is ISRAEL.

While typology does fit into what I was talking about, I was still referring to some prophecies. I'm going to stop right there due to time constraints right now, and to research my cf's before I misrepresent God's Word. I'll be back soon to contribute some more!
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Kim,
I would just say that always reading with an eye on Jesus makes sense, regardless. Even if you are "wrong" about something, you are "looking in the right direction" or with the proper orientation, and those sorts of corrections (if later you have to make them) are not as difficult.

Next, I think reading a commentary along with your Scripture reading is a good idea. Why? Because though we are supposed to search the Scriptures, and we are the sheep that hear the Voice of our Shepherd, nevertheless Jesus gave us "teachers". So, we should make use of them. As for a recommendation, a "safe" choice is Matthew Henry. There is a good reason why he's been republished constantly for 300 years or so. His was an extraordinary synthesis of biblical knowledge and application. Since he didn't write the last volume (Acts-Revelation) that one is a bit uneven. But everything else is immeasurably helpful.

Lastly, Isaiah is challenging. That's just a fact, for pastors no less than the layman. I venture to say that when Isaiah is pronouncing denunciation on Israel and the nations, that is just so. Reading of the glories of the future have much to do with the coming Messiah.

Realize that the prophets were not simply men who stood among us, or slightly above us, with a telescope, or some other far-sight. The old illustration of the prophetic misunderstanding of two mountain ranges--the distant one being higher, but appearing together in the vision--this is improper. The prophets are caught up to HEAVEN, and see things from GOD'S perspective. No wonder they themselves have trouble understanding their own vision!

Yes, when you read Isaiah 53, it sounds like a PAST event, doesn't it? Except the end sounds future. All a bit jumbled. But when you realize that God sees everything, past, present, future, all at once and perfectly; when you see Isaiah struggling to put into words (but superintended by Holy Spirit) that which he has seen as God sees. It's future, but it's as good as done already in God's decree. It was eternity past, but it sounds like a present conversation--this covenant of Redemption ("I will appoint you," Is. 42:6, amazing!). You start to realize that this is incredible stuff. Because through Isaiah WE also are being invited to enter his vision. And we have an advantage; we have seen significant fulfillment of the central events of Redemption.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful, a little.
 

Kim G

Puritan Board Junior
Thank you. That is helpful. I'm glad to know I'm just not a complete idiot who can't see the obvious meeting staring at me from the text. :) I have Matthew Henry's commentary (given as a gift last year) but I haven't used it much. That's a great suggestion. As is reading with my mind's eye focused on Christ.

I appreciate your suggestions.

Kim,
I would just say that always reading with an eye on Jesus makes sense, regardless. Even if you are "wrong" about something, you are "looking in the right direction" or with the proper orientation, and those sorts of corrections (if later you have to make them) are not as difficult.

Next, I think reading a commentary along with your Scripture reading is a good idea. Why? Because though we are supposed to search the Scriptures, and we are the sheep that hear the Voice of our Shepherd, nevertheless Jesus gave us "teachers". So, we should make use of them. As for a recommendation, a "safe" choice is Matthew Henry. There is a good reason why he's been republished constantly for 300 years or so. His was an extraordinary synthesis of biblical knowledge and application. Since he didn't write the last volume (Acts-Revelation) that one is a bit uneven. But everything else is immeasurably helpful.

Lastly, Isaiah is challenging. That's just a fact, for pastors no less than the layman. I venture to say that when Isaiah is pronouncing denunciation on Israel and the nations, that is just so. Reading of the glories of the future have much to do with the coming Messiah.

Realize that the prophets were not simply men who stood among us, or slightly above us, with a telescope, or some other far-sight. The old illustration of the prophetic misunderstanding of two mountain ranges--the distant one being higher, but appearing together in the vision--this is improper. The prophets are caught up to HEAVEN, and see things from GOD'S perspective. No wonder they themselves have trouble understanding their own vision!

Yes, when you read Isaiah 53, it sounds like a PAST event, doesn't it? Except the end sounds future. All a bit jumbled. But when you realize that God sees everything, past, present, future, all at once and perfectly; when you see Isaiah struggling to put into words (but superintended by Holy Spirit) that which he has seen as God sees. It's future, but it's as good as done already in God's decree. It was eternity past, but it sounds like a present conversation--this covenant of Redemption ("I will appoint you," Is. 42:6, amazing!). You start to realize that this is incredible stuff. Because through Isaiah WE also are being invited to enter his vision. And we have an advantage; we have seen significant fulfillment of the central events of Redemption.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful, a little.
 

Iconoclast

Puritan Board Junior
When, for example, Hosea writes (11:1), in the midst of a judgment denunciation of Ephraim, "Out of Egypt I called my son," Matthew (2:15) understands Hosea to be prophesying of Christ.
But in this way: even Hosea is reflecting on Israel's past, and God is saying something about his calling Israel, his son, (Ex. 4:23) out of Egypt. Christ is the embodiment of all that prefigurement; he is ISRAEL.

Okay, I think I get what you're saying. I guess my question is still, how am I supposed to read Isaiah? He seems to jump back and forth and to the present and future and past. I know now that I should read the NT into the OT, but the entire book of Isaiah is not in the NT, is it?

If I can't understand Isaiah apart from the NT, then how do I know when Isaiah is talking about current events and when he is talking about future events?
Oi! If you can't understand my very vague question, please ignore me. I'm confusing myself. :duh::lol:

The second half of Isaiah is called the book of comfort because it speaks so much of The Lord Jesus Christ, as the Servant of Jehovah.
As Bruce has posted keep looking for Jesus in it. When you get bogged down on a passage,go to the commentary,and perhaps go to sermonaudio and download sermons by bible,whatever text you want to learn more about.
You will always learn from Isaiah,for the rest of your life. it is quoted about 15x in the book of Romans alone ,just from chapter 9-15 in Romans.
it is meat,and not milk when quoted by Paul,but it is really helpful to understand God's eternal purpose being worldwide,Isa 49 ,54,60, 65:book2:

The book is big,and is also called the gospel in the OT.
 

Zenas

Snow Miser
I think it can be said that different verses can be speaking about multiple things at the same time. Many objects, people, places, etc. in Scripture are themselves the object of the writing, but they themselves also fulfill other roles as, what was pointed out earlier, prefigurements of things to come.

Take for instance Israel. Israel was a man, a nation, God's chosen people from among the nation, and an allegorical reference to the future physical church (of which the OT Israelites who were God's were also a part of).

When it is said that out of Egypt I called my son, this means many things.

Literally, God did call His son, i.e. Israel, out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. This was immediately applicable to the nation of Israel.

It also applies to God's people, both in the contemporary sense and in the prophetic sense. Certainly when God called Israel out of Egypt, those who were His within the nation of Israel were called out as well. However, this has prophetic prefiguring meaning in that Israel is a representation of God's people after Christ has freed them from the bonds of slavery. Egypt is a representation of slavery, which we as God's chosen Israel have been called forth from through the sacrifice of His Son, Christ.

It also applies to Christ as the Second Adam and His redemptive work on the cross as the Federal Head of God's people, i.e. Israel. Christ has brought us, Israel, out of the house of slavery via His work. In this way, this verse also speaks to this.

As you can see, the verse can mean several different things, at least according to me. :p Each meaning is no less valid than the other, but they speak to different objects that have their identity in the name of Israel.
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I think the question is what is the basic meaning of any predictive prophecy (or historical fact), and after that has been determined are there any other applications properly derived from it.
 

holyfool33

Puritan Board Freshman
Most of the prophecies as I see it had a historical and future application. Others where completely historical and others completely future. Issiah 65 for instance speaks of The Eternal State or as I see it The One Thousand Year Millennium.
 
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