The prophet Isaiah addressed the kingdom of Judah for forty years, beginning in the year that King Uzziah died (around 740 BC) and continuing at least to the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in 701 BC. As with all the prophets, Isaiah based his message on the deep covenant bond between God and his people Israel. Prophets typically delivered their messages by composing oracles—poetic speeches they recited in public. Unlike some other prophets, Isaiah had personal access to the kings of his day. He was able to bring godly counsel to kings Ahaz and Hezekiah when the powerful Assyrian Empire threatened the life of the nation. Isaiah maintains an international perspective throughout his book, revealing that Israel’s life is bound up with the affairs of the broader world.
Isaiah urges the people to care for the poor and needy, commit to follow God’s ways, and pursue social and economic justice. In typical prophetic pattern, he speaks of coming judgment because of Israel’s failure, but also of promised restoration, and moving from Israel to the wider world. God’s correction is in the service of renewal. Isaiah’s later oracles introduce the complex figure of the servant, whose personal sacrifice brings healing. These “servant songs” fit into the bigger picture of Israel’s return from exile, the Lord’s return to his people, and the nations turning to God. New Testament writers will turn to Isaiah often to explain how Israel’s ancient commission to bring blessing to the world was fulfilled.