The last section of Isaiah’s prophecy (59:9– 66:24) is made up in part of visions of the coming glory of Zion. They are notable and memorable, giving substance to the rule of righteousness that the Lord will institute when he comes (chapters 60, 61, 62, 65:17–26; 66:7–24). Interspersed there are warnings of impending judgment for the idolatry and gross sins of Judah as the nation went into spiritual decline which even the reforms of Josiah could not arrest. The fall of Jerusalem and the exile into Babylon are clearly on the horizon (chapters 57–58, 64, 65, 66). There are also informative statements about the Christ to come: in 61:1–3 there is his compelling message of the acceptable year of the Lord, while in 63:1–6 he comes as the mighty warrior in the day of vengeance.

Time of writing

Isaiah’s prophecy spans the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah (1:1). Hezekiah had his life extended by 15 years and in the third year of this period his son and successor, Manasseh, was born of Hephzibah, his wife. Manasseh was 12 years old when he began to reign, and the abysmal record of his early years is significant for it matches the apostasy of Judah found in Isaiah 56:9 – 66:24. We read that the young king, no doubt influenced by older counsellors, did evil after the abominations of the heathen whom Yahweh had driven out before Israel. The reforms of his faithful father were reversed: Baal worship was reinstated and all the host of heaven worshipped. Altars were erected in Yahweh’s house, and he even stooped to worship Molech, making his son pass through the fire (2 Kings 21:1–8).

Faithful prophets protested against this idolatry and degradation in which the people were seduced and involved. The fate of Samaria was to be Judah’s as well, so indelible were the sins of Judah (v9–15). Resisting the denunciations of righteous men, Manasseh set about murdering innocents: he “shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another” (v16).

As mentioned, the gross sins of idolatry and the accompanying adulterous and licentious practices are reflected in these final chapters of Isaiah. They hardly match the closing years of Hezekiah, though for a time his heart was lifted up. It seems then that these chapters (57:9 – 66:24) were written in the early years of Manasseh’s reign. Tradition accords with this, for it is believed that Isaiah fled from Manasseh’s henchmen and sought refuge in the hollow of a tree. Upon discovery the aged prophet perished, the decree being given to saw the tree down. Thus this great and faithful prophet perished in the massacre of the innocents, but not without hope. There is an apparent allusion to him in the catalogue of faith’s sufferers in Hebrews 11, “they were sawn asunder”. For him the glories of the Kingdom of which he by the Spirit spoke so eloquently, shall be a reality.

Authorship

Much nonsense has been written about the authorship of the prophecy of Isaiah, some considering that Isaiah 40–66 was written by a “second Isaiah”, “Deutero-Isaiah”, and some even ascribe parts to “Trito-Isaiah”, etc. This has come about because of an inability to believe predictive prophecy, that Isaiah could name Cyrus 140 years before he was born (44:28). For this reason these blind sceptics say the last portion of the book must have been written following the captivity in Babylon: that is, it was post-exilic.

But this is to deny God’s power of inspiration, His claim to be able to “declare the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (46:9–11; 44:24–28).

The unity of the prophecy of Isaiah can be seen in the harmony of its literary style, its unique use of metaphor and colour, its twinning of words (Zion … Jerusalem; righteousness … judgment etc) found throughout.

The final nail in the coffin of these “learned revisionists” is to be seen in the words of the Apostle John, who attributes words found in Isaiah 6:13, as well as words found in chapter 53:1 to the prophet Isaiah:

“But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53).

“Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (Isa 6:10).

“These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him” (John 12:38–41). These words of Isaiah have a further application to the modern sceptics, some of whom even consider Isaiah’s references to Cyrus to be interpolations!

Evidence for the ‘unity’ of Isaiah could be multiplied, but should not be needed by those who, like the Lord and John the Apostle, believe that the Word of God is inspired.

“His watchmen are blind”

56:9–12 Ravenous Gentile beasts are called upon to devour the flock, rendered defenceless by slothful leadership.

56:9 “All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest.”

Punishment by devouring wild beasts was threatened for breach of Yahweh’s covenant and law (Lev 26:22; Deut 28:26; 32:24). This had a literal fulfilment following the captivity of the ten tribes (2 Kings 17:25), but the words here also have a metaphorical meaning and apply to the nations that would come against Judah, in particular the Babylonians (cp Isa 5:26–29; Jer 2:15; 12:9; 50:17, 44–45).

The sins of the rulers involved indolence and inattention to duty, a spirit of self-indulgence and slumber (v10), avarice and selfishness (v11), and indulgence and intemperance (v12).

56:10–11 “His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down [rsv ‘dreaming’], loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand [mlb ‘cannot make distinctions’]: they all look to their own way [cp 53:6], every one for his gain, from his quarter.”

These verses depict an appalling state of affairs among those entrusted with the spiritual well-being of the nation, the rulers and the priests. They were called to be watchmen and shepherds, to guard from dangers without and to care and provide for the needs of the flock within.

“His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant”

In the primary sense watchmen were those stationed on the walls of a city or tower so that they might observe the approach of an enemy and forewarn the people (1 Sam 14:16; 2 Sam 13:34; 18:24). But the term is also applied to the prophets, who were educated and inspired to warn of spiritual decline and impending judgment (Jer 6:17; Ezek 3:17). For failure on their part to sound an alarm, with consequent destruction, they would be held responsible: “his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezek 3:17; cp Acts 18:6; 20:28). We are the watchmen that Yahweh has set upon the walls of Jerusalem today. We have both the responsibility to watch and warn, as well as to pray and to give God no rest until “he makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isa 62:6–7).

The watchmen of Judah were delinquent, wilfully blind to idolatry and corruption: the prevailing sins they chose not to notice or condemn.

“they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber” Dogs were appointed to guard the house or flock and give notice of approaching danger or robbers by their barks. They were in this respect like the prophets who were to warn of impending trouble. Tragically there was a desecration of duty, as if they were dumb and could not bark! Moreover, lying down and sleeping was their preferred occupation!

“Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough [mrg ‘strong of appetite’].” The analogy with dogs is continued; they were greedy, insatiable, sensual and disposed to gorge themselves. They cared only for themselves and were insensible to the needs of others. They failed to perform the very roles for which they had been appointed.

“they are shepherds that cannot understand” The shepherd must tend, feed and protect the flock. The shepherds of God’s people misused their privilege; being devoted to self interest, they looked to “their own way, every one for his gain.” This was the antithesis of what they were supposed to do, and for it they would be summarily judged.

There are many instances of shepherds failing for these same reasons (Ezek 34:1–4; Zech 11:1–9). What a contrast they were to Yahweh (Psa 23:1), and His Son who, as the good shepherd, laid down his life for the sheep! (John 10:11–18; 1 Pet 2:21–25).

56:12 “Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.”

The indolence in this verse can perhaps be better grasped by citing the Living Bible. Putting the thoughts expressed in the language of today it reads, “‘Come’, they say. ‘We’ll get some wine and have a party; let’s all get drunk. This is really living; let it go on and on, and tomorrow will be better yet’”!

There was a dereliction of their calling, and they had no conscience. It is not a description of the sheep, the people at large, but of the watchmen, the shepherds, the leaders and teachers of Judah. It seems to point to and describe the degeneracy of the times when Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, reigned. The following chapter (57) elaborates on the state of affairs prevailing in those tragic, ungodly days.