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is only traditional evidence, and a supposed allusion of the author of
the Epistle to the Hebrews; but, in reality, his death, like his birth Opinion of and his life, is involved in much obscurity. Calmet concludes that Calmet.
he did not enter upon his prophetical office until the beginning of the reign of Jotham, and that he died in the first year of that of Manasseh. The first position appears to us to impugn his own declaration, that his visions opened in the days of, Uzziah; but in the last he agrees with many other writers. And if it be conjoined with the general tradition of his death, it exhibits the unworthy son of Hezekiah as hastening to destroy, with an eager indecency, in the prophet whose admonitions he abhorred, his father's bosom friend; a circumstance which but too well comports with his bloodthirsty character. It is evident that Isaiah prophesied a long time; some writers have suggested a period of eighty-five years, while the representation of Calmet, which is the most moderate, allows to his public career but threescore years.
It is sometimes difficult in prophetical writings to ascertain with accuracy when the prophet speaks in his own person, and when he personifies another: this is particularly the case in predictions which refer to the Messiah, where the transition from one event to another, and from one person to another, is sometimes very abrupt, and at others almost imperceptible. We are disposed to think, from an expression in the first verse of the forty-ninth chapter of the book of Isaiah, notwithstanding the tenor of the argument evidently
relates to the Saviour of the world, that an intimation is given of Separated the separation of the prophet himself, from his earliest infancy, to from his infancy.
the station which he afterwards filled with such pre-eminent majesty and fidelity. However this may be, it is very evident that he commenced his prophetic career very early; and continued it, with indefatigable assiduity and energy, to a remote period of life; that while he soared as on an eagle's pinion, like the eagle he appeared to renovate his vigour in his old age; and that his fine description of a servant of Jehovah most aptly applied to himself—“ he ran without weariness, and walked without fainting.”
His predictions may be arranged in the following order:—He has his
himself named four reigns under which he prophesied. Five chapters of the beginning of bis majestic work relate to the reign of Uzziah. The sixth, containing the description of a magnificent vision, which occurred to him in the year of the death of that monarch, must be therefore referred to the reign of Jotham, his successor. Those which remain are divided between Ahaz and Hezekiah; nor is it easy to draw precisely the line between these monarchs, as to their share in the several predictions, from the prophecies themselves, until we arrive at the thirty-sixth chapter, when we find ourselves in the fourteenth year of the reign of Hezekiah. It should be noted, that the difficulty of distinguishing the predictions appropriated to the respective reigns of these four sovereigns, arises from the intersper
sion of prophecies relative to the Messiah, which bore alike upon all, with those which were local, and arose out of circumstances peculiar to the times. Chronology alone can settle the division; and by its aid it may be done with tolerable precision. According to the general opinion as to the order in which this prophet delivered his predictions, the book of Isaiah may be thus classed. The first Time of his five chapters are assigned to Uzziah's reign; the sixth to that of prophecies. Jotham, thence to the fifteenth the reign of Ahaz seems to be included, and all that remains must be referred to that of Hezekiah; perhaps extending into the opening of the tyranny of Manasseh. According to the chronology of Usher, which we have usually followed, Isaiah began to prophecy A.M. 3244, B.C. 760; and his last predictions were delivered A.m. 3306, B.c. 698; thus allowing space for the exercise of his arduous office of sixty-two years. The predictions relative to the Messiah occupy the largest proportion of his writings; and they possess a character of such precision as well The
Evangelical as grandeur, that he has been styled, with one consent, in all ages, Bra
Prophet. the Evangelical Prophet.
The predictions themselves conduct us to some important events in the Jewish history during the life of Isaiah, with which he was intimately connected. He appears to have had but two children ; His two whose names were given as signs of certain prophecies which he had chi delivered. Shear-jashub—the remnant shall return—alluding to the restoration from the captivity of Babylon, which event had occupied a considerable place in the prophet's writings; and Maher-shalalhash-baz—making speed to the spoil, he hasteneth to the slaughteran appellation which too surely announced the approaching desolation of the kingdoms of Israel and Syria. His wife is called a prophetess; His wife. whether, according to the opinion of the Rabbins, that a spirit of prophecy rested upon her, or, as others have concluded, only because of her connection with Isaiah, cannot be easily determined. Some have also imagined that the father of Isaiah was a prophet, from the His father. circumstance that his name is coupled with that of his son; and it has been said that the father of a seer was never mentioned, except he had been himself a partaker of the same inspiration; but it does not appear that such a sentiment can be borne out by facts. These are the only particulars suggested relative to Isaiah himself; and henceforward we learn his history only as it is associated with the public events of the times in which he lived.
The historical facts distinctly adverted to in his prophecies are Confederacy, four; The confederacy against Judah, by Rezin, king of Syria, and St
Syria. by Pekah, king of Israel, in the days of Ahaz; the invasion of the same country, in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah, by Sennacherib, king of Assyria; the alarming sickness of Hezekiah, and his miraculous recovery; and the complimentary visit, consequent upon it, of the ambassadors of Merodach-baladan, king of Babylon. These events gave rise to distinct prophecies, relating partly to the destiny
of Israel and
of the Jews, and principally to the reign of the Messiah: and it will be discovered, by an accurate examination of the predictions of Isaiah, relative to other countries, which will be hereafter classed and enumerated, that they principally sprang from some historical facts, recorded in the chronicles of the empire, but not distinctly named by the prophet.
It must have been unspeakably more grievous to the king of Judah, that Israel should have been linked with Syria against him, than if two of the mightiest potentates of the age had been leagued for his destruction. But little more than two centuries had passed since they were one kingdom, under the glorious sceptre of Solomon. No political changes could erase from the bosom of each that they were brethren, descended from one grand ancestor, speaking the same language, originally heirs of the same promise, and embracing a common faith; the interposing rock had divided those streams, which were once one current, but the fountain of both continued the same. In private life, when animosities arise among brethren, there is an unusual bitterness attached to them. The affections being engaged in the first instance, when they become repressed and violated, alter their whole character; and there is no hatred so deep and irreconcileable as that which arises from wounded love and insulted friendship. It is usually found that this principle acts with tenfold force upon nations in this situation, who add political fervour to outraged affection and original union; and this was manifested in the most marked manner in the war carried on between Israel and
Judah. We lose almost the part which the Syrians took in it in the hostility of unnatural hostility of the Israelites; and while Judah felt most
deeply the assault from the ten tribes, they, on the other hand, having obtained certain advantages, set no bounds to their oppression; and it became necessary that the prophet Obed should be sent to them, to require them to be satisfied with the spoils which they had taken, and remanding the prisoners to their country; or the lamp of David had, at that time, been wholly quenched; and, to increase the calamity, would have been extinguished by the hand of a brother. These circumstances, not mentioned by Isaiah, constituted a part of that war to which he distinctly alludes, and which gave occasion to his predictions immediately before us. They were subsequent to this period, and were provoked by the idolatry of Ahaz, after he
had been delivered from his immediate apprehensions. B.C. 742. In the year 742 before Christ, this iniquitous league took place ;
a confederacy which joined the armies of Israel, the professed ser-vants of the only and true God, with the host of Syria, a people distinguished, from time immemorial, for their idolatrous inventions; for an ingenuity in multiplying divinities, and improving upon the superstitions of other nations; and this, against the house of David, and the sceptre to which they had originally yielded obedience, proud of its greatness, and sheltered under its protection. Ahaz
Israel to Judah.
was justly alarmed. The alliance against him was formidable in itself, and he had forfeited the only security which can deserve to be so called—the divine favour—by his idolatrous practices and infamous life. The apprehensions of the monarch, and of his people, are beautifully described. “And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim: and his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind !” This little circumstance would be unworthy of notice, were it not that in this short sentence, which is also prosaic and historical, we have the figurative and commanding features of that style which distinguished the prophetical writings, and to which our attention must be directed, before we close this article. The Being who had been insulted with the impieties of an apostate monarch, and an ungrateful nation, was not forgetful of his people on this occasion. Isaiah was commanded to approach Ahaz, taking with him his son, Shear-jashub, then an infant; and to mark the precision of the fact, in connection with the prophecy, as one of those little, but irresistible circumstances, incompatible with falsehood, because so minute that mere invention would not think of them; the place of meeting is prescribed and mentioned: it took place " at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the highway of the fuller's field.” The alarm of Ahaz appears to have been twofold. He was afraid of the immediate consequences of this joint assault; and he apprehended that the dissolution of the Jewish monarchy was at hand. The prediction is therefore double; and it is necessary The double to observe this, in order to afford a solution of it, at once consistent pred
istan't prediction. with the existing circumstances, and the future aspect which it bore upon the Messiah. For want of this attention, commentators have plunged themselves into difficulties, which, as it appears to us, would not have existed, had they kept these simple facts in view. His immediate fears are allayed, by a time being fixed for the destruction of those invading monarchs, who were not so to prevail against him as to dispossess him of his throne; while they were themselves exposed to ruin which they did not anticipate ; and it was revealed to him, that the throne of David should stand, until a greater than David came, whose miraculous birth is predicted, and in whose spiritual kingdom the temporal sovereignty of his house should be absorbed; in other words, to repeat the expressions of dying Jacob, “The sceptre was not to depart from Judah until Shiloh came.” As a sign of the sudden destruction of the confederate monarchs, Isaiah presented his own child. Ahaz having refused to ask a sign, God deigned to give him a double one, relative both to the monarchy and to his pressing dangers. “Before the child” (properly before this child) * shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.” There could be no possible reason for Shear-jashub to accompany his father, except for this purpose, to be a sign in the prediction. His immediate
Butter and honey.
fears allayed, he was instructed as to the termination of the dynasty of David, as a temporal monarchy, and encouraged in the prospect that this extinction of worldly glory was only that absorption of a lesser light which must always take place in the presence of a greater; that, in truth, it was to be absorbed in the splendour of a spiritual and eternal kingdom. “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.” The application of this sign to the Messiah by St. Matthew, removes all doubt upon the subject of the propriety of this reference. The butter of the East was a sort of thick cream, and, mingled with honey, was considered a luxury of the first order. Such an image represents the actual prosperity of a dominion which had no external marks of grandeur, and refers to better blessings than this world could give, under a figure perfectly familiar to those to whom it was addressed. It was further considered a nutritious diet for children, which, by strengthening the body, would be likely to contribute to the soundness of the judgment; vigour of mind often depending much upon physical causes; and this fact forms an easy solution of the closing remark of the prophet. Although we have altered the order of the prediction, to render the argument clearer, it will be seen that such a transposition cannot affect the interpretation; which will be equally valid, whether the promise of the Messiah, or that of the overthrow of the kings of Syria and of Israel, stand first in the arrangement of a prophecy, which, evidently relating to two events, and embracing two signs, (viz. that of the prophet's son, and that of the miraculous conception,) must necessarily be divided into two parts.
The next event of importance in the life of Isaiah, as connected invasion of with his prophecies, is the invasion of Judæa by Sennacherib, king Sennacherib. of Assyria. "The monarchy of Israel had perished under the con
quering forces of Shalmaneser, about ten years before this period. Hezekiah having failed to pay the tribute exacted by the kings of Assyria from the monarchs of Israel, the incensed and unprincipled tyrant invaded and subdued the defenced cities of Judah. He was appeased, for a time, by the submission of Hezekiah, and the payment of a very heavy annual sum. But after three years, inflated with the successes which he had obtained over several surrounding nations, once distinguished for their valour and consequence, without any pretext, but the mere impulse of wanton and arbitrary power, he sent Rabshakeh, his cup-bearer, from Lachish, which he was then besieging, to Jerusalem, with instructions to employ the most insulting language to Hezekiah ; and to listen to no terms which did not include the most abject submission, without any correspondent guarantee, even for the life of the outraged monarch. The threat was immediately followed by an immense army, quite equal, in the opinion of the Assyrian monarch, to the execution of his unprincipled purpose. The pious king of Judah spread his case before Jehovah.