STUDY 2: BACKGROUND INFORMATION

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

[Note: The chapters in Isaiah that concentrate on reporting historical events will not be given much attention in this series of studies on Isaiah. If you want to understand the historical events concurrent with Isaiah’s ministry it is suggested that you read all the references in this background study.]

1. THE INTERNATIONAL SITUATION

A. The northern kingdom of Israel
The kingdom of Israel was united only under Saul, David and Solomon. When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam inherited the throne in 922BC the ten northern tribes split off under the leadership of Jeroboam I, leaving only Judah and Benjamin faithful to the Davidic kings in Jerusalem. [Various northerners migrated to Judah and were incorporated into that kingdom.] From this point on until its fall in 722BC the northern kingdom, based at Samaria, was known as Israel (alias Ephraim or Samaria) and the southern kingdom as Judah (alias Jerusalem, David or Zion). From its inception the northern kingdom embraced idolatry. After the death of Jeroboam II in 746BC the northern kingdom disintegrated. Anarchy and instability prevailed. During the period 746-722BC there was a constant threat from Assyria. In view of this threat Israel joined in a coalition with Syria. See Isaiah 7:1-25.

B. Assyria
Situated to the north east of Judah and Israel, Assyria became an increasing threat to Israel. In an attempt to ward off the attacks of the Syro-Ephraimite coalition, Ahaz, king of Judah, against the advice of Isaiah, requested the assistance of Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria (2Kings 16:7f; Isaiah 10:24ff). Ahaz’ action made Judah a vassal of Assyria. It did alleviate the Syro-Ephraimite threat, for Syria was defeated by Assyria, but by it Judah lost her independence, and put herself in the ambiguous position of having to pay some form of homage to Assyria’s gods. Syncretism (following two different belief systems at the same time) set in.

Several years after Hezekiah came to the throne he refused to pay tribute to Assyria (2Kings 18:7). This incurred Assyrian reprisals which resulted in Judah again paying tribute (2Kings 18:13-16). In a later attack Assyria held Jerusalem under siege, but the city was miraculously delivered, in fulfilment of a promise of the LORD (2Kings 18:17-19:37).

Assyria ultimately (in 722BC) completed the destruction of the northern kingdom. This we must view as Scripture does:

[1] Assyria is seen as God’s instrument (Isaiah 10:5-6);

[2] Assyria herself incurs the judgement of God (10:7-19);

[3] Assyria’s attack on other nations goes only as far as God allows (10:24-32);

[4] Assyria’s fall is because God has broken her (14:24-27);

[5] Though Assyria is not bound to God by a covenant relationship, though she has not been given his law as his people had, she is liable to his judgement (30:27-33).

C. Babylon
Isaiah’s ministry ceased prior to the Babylonian attack on Judah, but his message encompasses that event, as it does the even later Persian campaign. He even names Cyrus, the Persian, as God’s instrument to deliver the Jews from the Babylonian captivity [44:28; 45:1].

Isaiah 13:1-14:23 is a prophecy against Babylon.

D. Various nations
Isaiah 13 to 23 records ‘oracles’ against many nations. In addition to Assyria and Babylon, these nations are the Philistines, Moab, Damascus (Syria), Cush (Ethiopia), Egypt, Arabia and Tyre. Although none of them know or acknowledge God, yet they are all answerable to him. Jerusalem, the holy city, is also included in these oracles of judgement. In Isaiah 24 the devastation resulting from God’s judgement encompasses the whole earth.

 

2. THE INTERNAL SITUATION IN JUDAH

A. THE KINGS

[1] King Uzziah (2 Kings 15:1-7) and King Jotham (2Kings 15:32-38)
Both of these kings did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.  However, ‘the high places were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there’ (2Kings 15: 4,35). Although these two kings were acceptable to the Lord the nation as a whole was spiritually deaf:

‘Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth!
     For the LORD has spoken:
    “I reared children and brought them up,
      but they have rebelled against me.
     The ox knows his master,
      the donkey his owner’s manger,
    but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.”’ (Isaiah 1:2,3)


[2] King Ahaz (2Kings 16:1-20; Isaiah 7:1-8:4)
As an individual he failed to find favour with God, openly rebelling against him, adopting religious practices of neighbouring nations (2Kings 16:2-4).

As a national leader he incurred the rebuke of God, for he allied Judah with Assyria, seeking her help against the threatened attack by Syria and Israel. In this he failed to trust the word of God which came to him through Isaiah. He put his confidence in Assyria rather than in God (2Kings 16:5-9).

He also failed as the religious leader of the nation. He introduced a pagan altar and customs into the house of the Lord (2Kings 16:10-20).

[3] King Hezekiah (2Kings 18-20; Isaiah 36-39)
As an individual, he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD (2Kings 18:3,5-7).

As a religious leader he pursued a policy of religious reform. However, we can deduce that these reforms did not purify the people inwardly, regardless of their external effect. Had the nation here followed the king in his loyalty to God one might presume that Judah would have escaped the exile (18:4).

As a political leader Hezekiah broke out from under Assyrian domination, and reclaimed some Judean territory (18:7b-8). This independence was short-lived for an Assyrian attack on Judean country towns brought Judah into the position of an Assyrian tribute state (18:13-16). Assyria soon sought to conquer Jerusalem, and sent a message to Hezekiah which was really a challenge to God (18:17-37). Hezekiah sent to Isaiah the prophet, who replied with an encouraging message from God (2Kings 19:1-7). After a brief respite the King of Assyria replied with another taunting message (19:8-13). This time Hezekiah is more confident of God, and speaks to God himself (19:14-19). God sends word to Hezekiah; it is a word concerning both Assyria and Judah (19:20-34).

B. THE RELIGIOUS SITUATION
[We will look at this at length in later studies.]

Check these texts. Describe the sinful actions and practices
[1] Social sins    - Isaiah 1:21-23; 3:13-15; 5:8,23; 10:1-4.

 

 


[2] Syncretistic practices - 2Kings 16:10-20; 17:7-19.