« Prev Chapter I. The Date of Isaiah XL.-LXVI. Next »








The problem of the date of Isaiah xl.-lxvi. is this: In a book called by the name of the prophet Isaiah, who flourished between 740 and 700 b.c., the last twenty-seven chapters deal with the captivity suffered by the Jews in Babylonia from 598 to 538, and more particularly with the advent, about 550, of Cyrus, whom they name. Are we to take for granted that Isaiah himself prophetically wrote these chapters, or must we assign them to a nameless author or authors of the period of which they treat?

Till the end of last century it was the almost universally accepted tradition, and even still is an opinion retained by many, that Isaiah was carried forward by the Spirit, out of his own age to the standpoint of one hundred and fifty years later; that he was inspired to utter the warning and comfort required by a generation so very different from his own, and was even enabled to hail by name their redeemer, Cyrus. This theory, involving as it does a phenomenon without parallel in the history of Holy Scripture, is based on these two grounds: first, that the chapters in question form a considerable part—nearly nine-twentieths—of the "Book of Isaiah;" and second, that portions of them are quoted in the New Testament by the prophet's name. The4 theory is also supported by arguments drawn from resemblances of style and vocabulary between these twenty-seven chapters and the undisputed oracles of Isaiah; but, as the opponents of the Isaian authorship also appeal to vocabulary and style, it will be better to leave this kind of evidence aside for the present, and to discuss the problem upon other and less ambiguous grounds.

The first argument, then, for the Isaian authorship of chapters xl.-lxvi. is that they form part of a book called by Isaiah's name. But, to be worth anything, this argument must rest on the following facts: that everything in a book called by a prophet's name is necessarily by that prophet, and that the compilers of the book intended to hand it down as altogether from his pen. Now there is no evidence for either of these conclusions. On the contrary, there is considerable testimony in the opposite direction. The Book of Isaiah is not one continuous prophecy. It consists of a number of separate orations, with a few intervening pieces of narrative. Some of these orations claim to be Isaiah's own: they possess such titles as The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz.11   Chs. i., ii., etc. The only title that could be offered as covering the whole book is that in ch. i., ver. 1: The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. But this manifestly cannot apply to any but the earlier chapters, of which Judah and Jerusalem are indeed the subjects. But such titles describe only the individual prophecies they head, and other portions of the book, upon other subjects and in very different styles, do not possess titles at all. It seems to me, that those, who maintain the Isaian authorship of the whole book, have the responsibility cast upon them of5 explaining why some chapters in it should be distinctly said to be by Isaiah, while others should not be so entitled. Surely this difference affords us sufficient ground for understanding, that the whole book is not necessarily by Isaiah, nor intentionally handed down by its compilers as the work of that prophet.22   There are, it will be remembered, certain narratives in the Book of Isaiah, which are not by the prophet. They speak of him in the third person (chs. vii., xxxvi.-xxxix.), while in other narratives (chs. vi. and viii.) he speaks of himself in the first person. Their presence is sufficient proof that the Book of Isaiah, in its extant shape, did not come from Isaiah's hands, but was compiled by others.

Now, when we come to chs. xl.-lxvi., we find that, occurring in a book which we have just seen no reason for supposing to be in every part of it by Isaiah, these chapters nowhere claim to be his. They are separated from that portion of the book, in which his undisputed oracles are placed, by a historical narrative of considerable length. And there is not anywhere upon them nor in them a title nor other statement that they are by the prophet, nor any allusion which could give the faintest support to the opinion, that they offer themselves to posterity as dating from his time. It is safe to say, that, if they had come to us by themselves, no one would have dreamt for an instant of ascribing them to Isaiah; for the alleged resemblances, which their language and style bear to his language and style, are far more than overborne by the undoubted differences, and have never been employed, even by the defenders of the Isaian authorship, except in additional and confessedly slight support of their main argument, viz. that the chapters must be Isaiah's because they are included in a book called by his name.

Let us understand, therefore, at this very outset, that6 in discussing the question of the authorship of "Second Isaiah," we are not discussing a question, upon which the text itself makes any statement, or into which the credibility of the text enters. No claim is made by the Book of Isaiah itself for the Isaian authorship of chs. xl.-lxvi.

A second fact in Scripture, which seems at first sight to make strongly for the unity of the Book of Isaiah, is that in the New Testament, portions of the disputed chapters are quoted by Isaiah's name, just as are portions of his admitted prophecies. These citations are nine in number.33   Matt. iii. 3, viii. 17, xii. 17; Luke iii. 4, iv. 17; John i. 23, xii. 38; Acts viii. 28; Rom. x. 16-20. None is by our Lord Himself. They occur in the Gospels, Acts and Paul. Now if any of these quotations were given in answer to the question, Did Isaiah write chs. xl.-lxvi. of the book called by his name? or if the use of his name along with them were involved in the arguments which they are borrowed to illustrate (as, for instance, is the case with David's name in the quotation made by our Lord from Psalm cx.), then those who deny the unity of the Book of Isaiah would be face to face with a very serious problem indeed. But in none of the nine cases is the authorship of the Book of Isaiah in question. In none of the nine cases is there anything in the argument, for the purpose of which the quotation has been made, that depends on the quoted words being by Isaiah. For the purposes, for which the Evangelists and Paul borrow the texts, these might as well be unnamed, or attributed to any other canonical writer. Nothing in them requires us to suppose that Isaiah's name is mentioned with them for any other end than that of reference, viz., to point out7 that they lie in the part of prophecy usually known by his name. But, if there is nothing in these citations to prove that Isaiah's name is being used for any other purpose than that of reference, then it is plain—and this is all that we ask assent to at the present time—that they do not offer the authority of Scripture as a bar to our examining the evidence of the chapters in question.

It is hardly necessary to add that neither is there any other question of doctrine in our way. There is none about the nature of prophecy, for, to take an example, ch. liii., as a prophecy of Jesus Christ, is surely as great a marvel if you date it from the Exile as if you date it from the age of Isaiah. And, in particular, let us understand that no question need be started about the ability of God's Spirit to inspire a prophet to mention Cyrus by name one hundred and fifty years before Cyrus appeared. The question is not, Could a prophet have been so inspired?—to which question, were it put, our answer might only be, God is great!—but the question is, Was our prophet so inspired? does he himself offer evidence of the fact? Or, on the contrary, in naming Cyrus does he give himself out as a contemporary of Cyrus, who already saw the great Persian above the horizon? To this question only the writings under discussion can give us an answer. Let us see what they have to say.

Apart from the question of the date, no chapters in the Bible are interpreted with such complete unanimity as Isa. xl.-xlviii. They plainly set forth certain things as having already taken place—the Exile and Captivity, the ruin of Jerusalem, and the devastation of the Holy Land. Israel is addressed as having exhausted the time of her penalty, and is proclaimed to be ready for deliverance. Some of the people are comforted as8 being in despair because redemption does not draw near; others are exhorted to leave the city of their bondage, as if they were growing too familiar with its idolatrous life. Cyrus is named as their deliverer, and is pointed out as already called upon his career, and as blessed with success by Jehovah. It is also promised that he will immediately add Babylon to his conquests, and so set God's people free.

Now all this is not predicted, as if from the standpoint of a previous century. It is nowhere said—as we should expect it to be said, if the prophecy had been uttered by Isaiah—that Assyria, the dominant world-power of Isaiah's day, was to disappear and Babylon to take her place; that then the Babylonians should lead the Jews into an exile which they had escaped at the hands of Assyria; and that after nearly seventy years of suffering God would raise up Cyrus as a deliverer. There is none of this prediction, which we might fairly have expected had the prophecy been Isaiah's; because, however far Isaiah carries us into the future, he never fails to start from the circumstances of his own day. Still more significant, however—there is not even the kind of prediction that we find in Jeremiah's prophecies of the Exile, with which indeed it is most instructive to compare Isa. xl.-lxvi. Jeremiah also spoke of exile and deliverance, but it was always with the grammar of the future. He fairly and openly predicted both; and, let us especially remember, he did so with a meagreness of description, a reserve and reticence about details, which are simply unintelligible if Isa. xl.-lxvi. was written before his day, and by so well-known a prophet as Isaiah. No: in the statements, which our chapters make concerning the Exile and the condition of Israel9 under it, there is no prediction, not the slightest trace of that grammar of the future in which Jeremiah's prophecies are constantly uttered. But there is a direct appeal to the conscience of a people already long under the discipline of God; their circumstance of exile is taken for granted; there is a most vivid and delicate appreciation of their present fears and doubts, and to these the deliverer Cyrus is not only named, but introduced as an actual and notorious personage already upon the midway of his irresistible career.

These facts are more broadly based than just at first sight appears. You cannot turn their flank by the argument that Hebrew prophets were in the habit of employing in their predictions what is called "the prophetic perfect"—that is, that in the ardour of their conviction that certain things would take place they talked of these, as the flexibility of the Hebrew tenses allowed them to do, in the past or perfect as if the things had actually taken place. No such argument is possible in the case of the introduction of Cyrus. For it is not only that the prophecy, with what might be the mere ardour of vision, represents the Persian as already above the horizon and upon the flowing tide of victory; but that, in the course of a sober argument for the unique divinity of the God of Israel, which takes place throughout chs. xli.-xlviii., Cyrus, alive and irresistible, already accredited by success, and with Babylonia at his feet, is pointed out as the unmistakable proof that former prophecies of a deliverance for Israel are at last coming to pass. Cyrus, in short, is not presented as a prediction, but as the proof that a prediction is being fulfilled. Unless he had already appeared in flesh and blood, and was on the point of striking at Babylon, with all the prestige of unbroken10 victory, a great part of Isa. xli.-xlviii. would be utterly unintelligible.

This argument is so conclusive for the date of Second Isaiah, that it may be well to state it a little more in detail, even at the risk of anticipating some of the exposition of the text.

Among the Jews at the close of the Exile there appear to have been two classes. One class was hopeless of deliverance, and to their hearts is addressed such a prophecy as ch. xl.: Comfort ye, comfort ye My people. But there was another class, of opposite temperament, who had only too strong opinions on the subject of deliverance. In bondage to the letter of Scripture and to the great precedents of their history, these Jews appear to have insisted that the Deliverer to come must be a Jew, and a descendant of David. And the bent of much of the prophet's urgency in ch. xlv. is to persuade those pedants, that the Gentile Cyrus, who had appeared to be not only the biggest man of his age, but the very likely means of Israel's redemption, was of Jehovah's own creation and calling. Does not such an argument necessarily imply that Cyrus was already present, an object of doubt and debate to earnest minds in Israel? Or are we to suppose that all this doubt and debate were foreseen, rehearsed and answered one hundred and fifty years before the time by so famous a prophet as Isaiah, and that, in spite of his prediction and answer, the doubt and debate nevertheless took place in the minds of the very Israelites, who were most earnest students of ancient prophecy? The thing has only to be stated to be felt to be impossible.

But besides the pedants in Israel, there is apparent through these prophecies another body of men, against11 whom also Jehovah claims the actual Cyrus for His own. They are the priests and worshippers of the heathen idols. It is well known that the advent of Cyrus cast the Gentile religions of the time and their counsellors into confusion. The wisest priests were perplexed; the oracles of Greece and Asia Minor either were dumb when consulted about the Persian, or gave more than usually ambiguous answers. Over against this perplexity and despair of the heathen religions, our prophet confidently claims Cyrus for Jehovah's own. In a debate in ch. xli., in which he seeks to establish Jehovah's righteousness—that is, Jehovah's faithfulness to His word, and power to carry out His predictions—the prophet speaks of ancient prophecies which have come from Jehovah, and points to Cyrus as their fulfilment. It does not matter to us in the meantime what those prophecies were. They may have been certain of Jeremiah's predictions; we may be sure that they cannot have contained anything so definite as Cyrus' name, or such a proof of Divine foresight must certainly have formed part of the prophet's plea. It is enough that they could be quoted; our business is rather with the evidence which the prophet offers of their fulfilment. That evidence is Cyrus. Would it have been possible to refer the heathen to Cyrus as proof that those ancient prophecies were being fulfilled, unless Cyrus had been visible to the heathen,—unless the heathen had been beginning already to feel this Persian "from the sunrise" in all his weight of war? It is no esoteric doctrine which the prophet is unfolding to initiated Israelites about Cyrus. He is making an appeal to men of the world to face facts. Could he possibly have made such an appeal unless the facts had been there, unless Cyrus had been within the ken of12 "the natural man"? Unless Cyrus and his conquests were already historically present, the argument in xli.-xlviii. is unintelligible.

If this evidence for the exilic date of Isa. xl.-xlviii.—for all these chapters hang together—required any additional support, it would find it in the fact that the prophet does not wholly treat of what is past and over, but makes some predictions as well. Cyrus is on the way of triumph, but Babylon has still to fall by his hand. Babylon has still to fall, before the exiles can go free. Now, if our prophet were predicting from the standpoint of one hundred and forty years before, why did he make this sharp distinction between two events which appeared so closely together? If he had both the advent of Cyrus and the fall of Babylon in his long perspective, why did he not use "the prophetic perfect" for both? That he speaks of the first as past and of the second as still to come, would most surely, if there had been no tradition the other way, have been accepted by all as sufficient evidence, that the advent of Cyrus was behind him and the fall of Babylon still in front of him, when he wrote these chapters.

Thus the earlier part, at least, of Isa. xl.-lxvi.—that is, chs. xl.-xlviii.—compels us to date it between 555, Cyrus' advent, and 538, Babylon's fall. But some think that we may still further narrow the limits. In ch. xli. 25, Cyrus, whose own kingdom lay east of Babylonia, is described as invading Babylonia from the north. This, it has been thought, must refer to his union with the Medes in 549, and his threatened descent upon Mesopotamia from their quarter of the prophet's horizon.44   Driver's Isaiah, pp. 137, 139. If it be so, the possible years13 of our prophecy are reduced to eleven, 549-538. But even if we take the wider and more certain limit, 555 to 538, we may well say that there are very few chapters in the whole of the Old Testament whose date can be fixed so precisely as the date of chs. xl.-xlviii.

If what has been unfolded in the preceding paragraphs is recognised as the statement of the chapters themselves, it will be felt that further evidence of an exilic date is scarcely needed. And those, who are acquainted with the controversy upon the evidence furnished by the style and language of the prophecies, will admit how far short in decisiveness it falls of the arguments offered above. But we may fairly ask whether there is anything opposed to the conclusion we have reached, either, first, in the local colour of the prophecies; or, second, in their language; or, third, in their thought—anything which shows that they are more likely to have been Isaiah's than of exilic origin.

1. It has often been urged against the exilic date of these prophecies, that they wear so very little local colour, and one of the greatest of critics, Ewald, has felt himself, therefore, permitted to place their home, not in Babylonia, but in Egypt, while he maintains the exilic date. But, as we shall see in surveying the condition of the exiles, it was natural for the best among them, their psalmists and prophets, to have no eyes for the colours of Babylon. They lived inwardly; they were much more the inhabitants of their own broken hearts than of that gorgeous foreign land; when their thoughts rose out of themselves it was to seek immediately the far-away Zion. How little local colour is there in the writings of Ezekiel! Isa. xl.-lxvi. has even more to show; for indeed the absence of14 local colour from our prophecy has been greatly exaggerated. We shall find as we follow the exposition, break after break of Babylonian light and shadow falling across our path,—the temples, the idol-manufactories, the processions of images, the diviners and astrologers, the gods and altars especially cultivated by the characteristic mercantile spirit of the place; the shipping of that mart of nations, the crowds of her merchants; the glitter of many waters, and even that intolerable glare, which so frequently curses the skies of Mesopotamia (xlix. 10). The prophet speaks of the hills of his native land with just the same longing, that Ezekiel and a probable psalmist of the Exile55   Psalm cxxi. betray,—the homesickness of a highland-born man whose prison is on a flat, monotonous plain. The beasts he mentions have for the most part been recognised as familiar in Babylonia; and while the same cannot be said of the trees and plants he names, it has been observed that the passages, into which he brings them, are passages where his thoughts are fixed on the restoration to Palestine.66   Driver's Isaiah: His Life and Times, p. 191. Besides these, there are many delicate symptoms of the presence, before the prophet, of a people in a foreign land, engaged in commerce, but without political responsibilities, each of which, taken by itself, may be insufficient to convince, but the reiterated expression of which has even betrayed commentators, who lived too early for the theory of a second Isaiah, into the involuntary admission of an exilic authorship. It will perhaps startle some to hear John Calvin quoted on behalf of the exilic date of these prophecies. But let us read and consider this statement of his: "Some15 regard must be had to the time when this prophecy was uttered; for since the rank of the kingdom had been obliterated, and the name of the royal family had become mean and contemptible, during the captivity in Babylon, it might seem as if through the ruin of that family the truth of God had fallen into decay; and therefore he bids them contemplate by faith the throne of David, which had been cast down."77   Calvin on Isa. lv. 3.

2. What we have seen to be true of the local colour of our prophecy, holds good also of its style and language. There is nothing in either of these to commit us to an Isaian authorship, or to make an exilic date improbable; on the contrary, the language and style, while containing no stronger nor more frequent resemblances to the language and style of Isaiah than may be accounted for by the natural influence of so great a prophet upon his successors, are signalised by differences from his undisputed oracles, too constant, too subtle, and sometimes too sharp, to make it at all probable that the whole book came from the same man. On this point it is enough to refer our readers to the recent exhaustive and very able reviews of the evidence by Canon Cheyne in the second volume of his Commentary, and by Canon Driver in the last chapter of Isaiah: His Life and Times, and to quote the following words of so great an authority as Professor A. B. Davidson. After remarking on the difference in vocabulary of the two parts of the Book of Isaiah, he adds that it is not so much words in themselves as the peculiar uses and combinations of them, and especially "the peculiar articulation of sentences and the movement of the whole discourse, by which an impression16 is produced so unlike the impression produced by the earlier parts of the book."88   So quoted by Driver (Isaiah, etc., p. 200), from the British and Foreign Evangelical Review, 1879, p. 339.

3. It is the same with the thought and doctrine of our prophecy. In this there is nothing to make the Isaian authorship probable, or an exilic date impossible. But, on the contrary, whether we regard the needs of the people or the analogies of the development of their religion, we find that, while everything suits the Exile, nearly everything is foreign both to the subjects and to the methods of Isaiah. We shall observe the items of this as we go along, but one of them may be mentioned here (it will afterwards require a chapter to itself), our prophet's use of the terms righteous and righteousness. No one, who has carefully studied the meaning which these terms bear in the authentic oracles of Isaiah, and the use to which they are put in the prophecies under discussion, can fail to find in the difference a striking corroboration of our argument—that the latter were composed by a different mind than Isaiah's, speaking to a different generation.99   See p. 223.

To sum up this whole argument. We have seen that there is no evidence in the Book of Isaiah to prove that it was all by himself, but much testimony which points to a plurality of authors; that chs. xl.-lxvi. nowhere assert themselves to be by Isaiah; and that there is no other well-grounded claim of Scripture or of doctrine on behalf of his authorship. We have then shown that chs. xl.-xlviii. do not only present the Exile as if nearly finished and Cyrus as if already come, while the fall of Babylon is still future; but that it is17 essential to one of their main arguments that Cyrus should be standing before Israel and the world, as a successful warrior, on his way to attack Babylon. That led us to date these chapters between 555 and 538. Turning then to other evidence,—the local colour they show, their language and style, and their theology,—we have found nothing which conflicts with that date, but, on the contrary, a very great deal, which much more agrees with it than with the date, or with the authorship, of Isaiah.

It will be observed, however, that the question has been limited to the earlier chapters of the twenty-seven under discussion, viz., to xl.-xlviii. Does the same conclusion hold good of xlix. to lxvi.? This can be properly discovered only as we closely follow their exposition; it is enough in the meantime to have got firm footing on the Exile. We can feel our way bit by bit from this standpoint onwards. Let us now merely anticipate the main features of the rest of the prophecy.

A new section has been marked by many as beginning with ch. xlix. This is because ch. xlviii. concludes with a refrain: There is no peace, saith Jehovah, to the wicked, which occurs again at the end of ch. lvii., and because with ch. xlviii. Babylon and Cyrus drop out of sight. But the circumstances are still those of exile, and, as Professor Davidson remarks, ch. xlix. is parallel in thought to ch. xlii., and also takes for granted the restoration of Israel in ch. xlviii., proceeding naturally from that to the statement of Israel's world-mission. Apart from the alternation of passages dealing with the Servant of the Lord, and passages whose subject is Zion—an alternation which begins pretty early in the prophecy, and has suggested to some its composition out18 of two different writings1010   Professor Briggs' Messianic Prophecy, 339 ff.—the first real break in the sequence occurs at ch. lii. 13, where the prophecy of the sin-bearing Servant is introduced. By most critics this is held to be an insertion, for ch. liv. 1 follows naturally upon ch. lii. 12, though it is undeniable that there is also some association between chs. lii. 13-liii., and ch. liv.1111   Ewald is very strong on this. In chs. liv.-lv. we are evidently still in exile. It is in commenting on a verse of these chapters that Calvin makes the admission of exilic origin which has been quoted above.

A number of short prophecies now follow, till the end of ch. lix. is reached. These, as we shall see, make it extremely difficult to believe in the original unity of "Second Isaiah." Some of them, it is true, lie in evident circumstance of exile; but others are undoubtedly of earlier date, reflecting the scenery of Palestine, and the habits of the people in their political independence, with Jehovah's judgement-cloud still unburst, but lowering. Such is ch. lvi. 9-lvii., which regards the Exile as still to come, quotes the natural features of Palestine, and charges the Jews with unbelieving diplomacy—a charge not possible against them when they were in captivity. But others of these short prophecies are, in the opinion of some critics, post-exilic. Cheyne assigns ch. lvi. to after the Return, when the temple was standing, and the duty of holding fasts and sabbaths could be enforced, as it was enforced by Nehemiah. I shall give, when we reach the passage, my reasons for doubting his conclusion. The chapter seems to me as likely to have been written upon the eve of the Return as after the Return had taken place.


Ch. lvii., the eighteenth of our twenty-seven chapters, closes with the same refrain as ch. xlviii., the ninth of the series: There is no peace, saith Jehovah, to the wicked. Ch. lviii. has, therefore, been regarded as beginning the third great division of the prophecy. But here again, while there is certainly an advance in the treatment of the subject, and the prophet talks less of the redemption of the Jews and more of the glory of the restoration of Zion, the point of transition is very difficult to mark. Some critics1212   Including Professor Cheyne, Encyc. Britann., article "Isaiah." regard ch. lviii. as post-exilic; but when we come to it we shall find a number of reasons for supposing it to belong, just as much as Ezekiel, to the Exile. Ch. lix. is perhaps the most difficult portion of all, because it makes the Jews responsible for civic justice in a way they could hardly be conceived to be in exile, and yet speaks, in the language of other portions of "Second Isaiah," of a deliverance that cannot well be other than the deliverance from exile. We shall find in this chapter likely marks of the fusion of two distinct addresses, making the conclusion probable that it is Israel's earlier conscience which we catch here, following her into the days of exile, and reciting her former guilt just before pardon is assured. Chs. lx., lxi., and lxii. are certainly exilic. The inimitable prophecy, ch. lxiii. 1-6, complete within itself, and unique in its beauty, is either a promise given just before the deliverance from a long captivity of Israel under heathen nations (ver. 4), or an exultant song of triumph immediately after such a deliverance has taken place. Ch. lxiii. 7-lxiv. implies a ruined temple (ver. 10), but bears no traces of the writer being in exile. It has been assigned to the20 period of the first attempts to rebuild Jerusalem after the Return. Ch. lxv. has been assigned to the same date, and its local colour interpreted as that of Palestine. But we shall find the colour to be just as probably that of Babylon, and again I do not see any certain proofs of a post-exilic date. Ch. lxvi., however, betrays more evidence of being written after the Return. It divides into two parts. In verses 1 to 4 the temple is still unbuilt, but the building would seem to be already begun. In verses 5 to 24, the arrival of the Jews in Palestine, the resumption of the life of the sacred community, and the disappointments of the returned at the first meagre results, seem to be implied. And the music of the book dies out in tones of warning, that sin still hinders the Lord's work with His people.

This rapid survey has made two things sufficiently clear. First, that while the bulk of chs. xl.-lxvi. was composed in Babylonia during the Exile of the Jews, there are considerable portions which date from before the Exile, and betray a Palestinian origin; and one or two smaller pieces that seem—rather less evidently, however—to take for granted the Return from the Exile. But, secondly, all these pieces, which it seems necessary to assign to different epochs and authors, have been arranged so as to exhibit a certain order and progress—an order, more or less observed, of date, and a progress very apparent (as we shall see in the course of exposition) of thought and of clearness in definition. The largest portion, of whose unity we are assured and whose date we can fix, is found at the beginning. Chs. xl.-xlviii. are certainly by one hand, and may be dated, as we have seen, between 555 and 538—the21 period of Cyrus' approach to take Babylon. There the interest in Cyrus ceases, and the thought of the redemption from Babylon is mainly replaced by that of the subsequent Return. Along with these lines, we shall discover a development in the prophecy's great doctrine of the Servant of Jehovah. But even this dies away, as if the experience of suffering and discipline were being replaced by that of return and restoration; and it is Zion in her glory, and the spiritual mission of the people, and the vengeance of the Lord, and the building of the temple, and a number of practical details in the life and worship of the restored community, which fill up the remainder of the book, along with a few echoes from pre-exilic times. Can we escape feeling in all this a definite design and arrangement, which fails to be absolutely perfect, probably, from the nature of the materials at the arranger's disposal?

We are, therefore, justified in coming to the provisional conclusion, that Second Isaiah is not a unity, in so far as it consists of a number of pieces by different men, whom God raised up at various times before, during, and after the Exile, to comfort and exhort amid the shifting circumstance and tempers of His people; but that it is a unity, in so far as these pieces have been gathered together by an editor very soon after the Return from the Exile, in an order as regular both in point of time and subject as the somewhat mixed material would permit. It is in this sense that throughout this volume we shall talk of "our prophet," or "the prophet;" up to ch. xlix., at least, we shall feel that the expression is literally true; after that it is rather an editorial than an original unity which is apparent. In this question of unity the dramatic style of the prophecy forms, no doubt, the greatest difficulty. Who shall dare to determine of the many22 soliloquies, apostrophes, lyrics and other pieces that are here gathered, often in want of any connection save that of dramatic grouping and a certain sympathy of temper, whether they are by the same author or have been collected from several origins? We must be content to leave the matter uncertain. One great reason, which we have not yet quoted, for supposing that the whole prophecy is not by one man, is that if it had been his name would certainly have come down with it.

Do not let it be thought that such a conclusion, as we have been led to, is merely a dogma of modern criticism. Here, if anywhere, the critic is but the patient student of Scripture, searching for the testimony of the sacred text about itself, and formulating that. If it be found that such a testimony conflicts with ecclesiastical tradition, however ancient and universal, so much the worse for tradition. In Protestant circles, at least, we have no choice. Litera Scripta manet. When we know that the only evidence for the Isaian authorship of chs. xl.-lxvi. is tradition, supported by an unthinking interpretation of New Testament citations, while the whole testimony of these Scriptures themselves denies them to be Isaiah's, we cannot help making our choice, and accepting the testimony of Scripture. Do we find them any the less wonderful or Divine? Do they comfort less? Do they speak with less power to the conscience? Do they testify with more uncertain voice to our Lord and Saviour? It will be the task of the following pages to show that, interpreted in connection with the history out of which they themselves say that God's Spirit drew them, these twenty-seven chapters become only more prophetic of Christ, and more comforting and instructive to men, than they were before.


But the remarkable fact is, that anciently tradition itself appears to have agreed with the results of modern scholarship. The original place of the Book of Isaiah in the Jewish canon seems to have been after both Jeremiah and Ezekiel,1313   According to the arrangement given in the Talmud (Baba bathra, f. 14, col. 2): "Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Twelve." Cf. Bleek, Introduction to Old Testament, on Isaiah; Orelli's Isaiah, Eng. ed., p. 214. a fact which goes to prove that it did not reach completion till a later date than the works of these two prophets of the Exile.

If now it be asked, Why should a series of prophecies written in the Exile be attached to the authentic works of Isaiah? that is a fair question, and one which the supporters of the exilic authorship have the duty laid upon them of endeavouring to answer. Fortunately they are not under the necessity of falling back, for want of other reasons, on the supposition that this attachment was due to the error of some scribe, or to the custom which ancient writers practised of filling up any part of a volume, that remained blank when one book was finished, with the writing of any other that would fit the place.1414   Robertson Smith, The Old Testament in Jewish Church, 109. The first of these reasons is too accidental, the second too artificial, in face of the undoubted sympathy which exists among all parts of the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah himself plainly prophesied of an exile longer than his own generation experienced, and prophesied of a return from it (ch. xi.). We saw no reason to dispute his claims to the predictions about Babylon in chs. xxi. and xxxix. Isaiah's, too, more than any other prophet's, were those great and final hopes of the Old Testament—the survival of Israel and the24 gathering of the Gentiles to the worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem. But it is for the express purpose of emphasizing the immediate fulfilment of such ancient predictions, that Isa. xl.-lxvi. were published. Although our prophet has new things to publish, his first business is to show that the former things have come to pass, especially the Exile, the survival of a Remnant, the sending of a Deliverer, the doom of Babylon. What more natural than to attach to his utterances those prophecies, of which the events he pointed to were the vindication and fulfilment? The attachment was the more easy to arrange that the authentic prophecies had not passed from Isaiah's hand in a fixed form. They do not bear those marks of their author's own editing, which are borne by the prophecies both of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It is impossible to be dogmatic on the point. But these facts—that our chapters are concerned, as no other Scriptures are, with the fulfilment of previous prophecies; that it is the prophecies of Isaiah which are the original and fullest prediction of the events they are busy with; and that the form, in which Isaiah's prophecies are handed down, did not preclude additions of this kind to them—contribute very evident reasons why Isa. xl.-lxvi., though written in the Exile, should be attached to Isa. i.-xxxix.1515   It is the theory of some, that although Isa. xl.-lxvi. dates as a whole from the Exile, there are passages in it by Isaiah himself, or in his style by pupils of his (Klostermann in Herzog's Encyclopædia and Bredenkamp in his Commentary). But this, while possible, is beyond proof.

Thus we present a theory of the exilic authorship of Isa. xl.-lxvi. within itself complete and consistent,25 suited to all parts of the evidence, and not opposed by the authority of any part of Scripture. In consequence of its conclusion, our duty, before proceeding to the exposition of the chapters, is twofold: first, to connect the time of Isaiah with the period of the Captivity, and then to sketch the condition of Israel in Exile. This we shall undertake in the next three chapters.

Note to Chapter I.

Readers may wish to have a reference to other passages of this volume, in which the questions of the date, authorship and structure of Isaiah xl.-lxvi. are discussed. See pp. 65-68, 112, 146 f., 212, 223; Introduction to Book III.; opening paragraphs of ch. xviii. and of ch. xix., etc.

« Prev Chapter I. The Date of Isaiah XL.-LXVI. Next »

| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |