The book of Isaiah is one of the largest books of the Old Testament, and amongst the most quoted in the New Testament.
Jesus, and the writers of the Gospels, saw the book as central to his identity and ministry (Matt 3:3, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17, 13:14, 5:17; Mk 7:6; Lk 3:4, 4:17; Jn 1:23, 12:38-39, 12:41).
Isaiah was a prophet who lived in Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom of Judah. His ministry began in the year that King Uzziah died (Is 6:1; 740BC) and continued through the reigns of the succeeding kings of Judah – Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Is 1:1).
It was a time of change and transition: the Assyrian Empire was on the rise, and would capture and take into exile the northern kingdom of Israel. The Babylonian Empire was also on the rise, and God spoke through Isaiah to prophecy the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah to Babylon.
The theological reasons given for the decline of Israel and the subsequent exile of Judah are clearly outlined by Isaiah: the nation had turned away from God.
Yet in the midst of these themes of judgement, Isaiah speaks to the nation of God as their saviour and redeemer.
One of the great collections of material in Isaiah are the “servant songs”, in which Isaiah speaks about the servant of the Lord, who would accomplish God’s purposes. In these songs, the servant sings in first person.
This servant is first identified as the nation of Israel, called and established by God; then with a faithful remnant, who despite the idolatry and sin of the majority, would remain faithful to God; and finally with a remnant of one, a messiah, a saviour, one who would finally live out the call and purposes of God, first given to Israel, who would be a saviour not just to Israel, but to the whole world. Christians have consistently seen these servant songs as ultimately pointing forward to the Lord Jesus Christ.