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Icons of the Bible: The Prophet Isaiah

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Icons of the Bible: The Prophet Isaiah
Icons of the Bible: The Prophet Isaiah

Icons of the Bible

Isaiah The Prophet

"As has been mentioned, Isaiah, the son of Amoz, was a member of the royal family. He made his first public appearance as the Divinely inspired prophet in the year of Uzziah's affliction with leprosy, and he ministered to the people for about ninety years, during the reigns of kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.

Isaiah had seen the growth of a new empire, Assyria, and the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Judea alone remained, and it was the last bulwark of the true faith in One G‑d. Isaiah brought to king and people the message of the holiness of G‑d, the L-rd of hosts, at a time when idolatry seemed to be taking hold in the land of Judah. He preached justice and charity at a time when the morals of the people had reached a new low. Of his Divine call Isaiah tells as follows;

"In the year of King Uzziah's death (meaning, when he was stricken with leprosy and was isolated), I saw the L-rd sitting upon a high and exalted throne, and his train filled the Temple. Seraphim were standing around him. Each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two did he fly. And one called unto the other, and said: 'Holy, Holy, Holy is the L-rd of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.' And the posts of the threshold shook at the voices of those that called aloud, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: 'Woe is me, for I am lost, because a man of unclean lips am I, and in the midst of people of unclean lips do I dwell; for the King, the L-rd of Hosts, have mine eyes seen.' Then flew one of the Seraphim to me, and in his hand was a live coal he had taken from the altar with the tongs. And he laid it upon my mouth and said; 'Lo, this has touched thy lips, and thy iniquity is departed and thy sin is forgiven!'." from the article: Isaiah The Prophet

painting by michelangelo
The Prophet Isaiah by Michelangelo

Timeline for the Book of Isaiah

There are three distinct periods of Judah during which Isaiah prophesied. One needs to keep these in mind to better understand the heart of Isaiah's message.

"The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." (Isaiah 1:1).

How Did Isaiah Die?

The Bible does not disclose how the prophet Isaiah died, but Hebrews 11 may offer a clue. This chapter, often referred to as the “hall of faith,” presents an extraordinary list of Old Testament champions of faith, including a description of several anonymous martyrs and persecuted saints. Hebrews 11:37 states, “Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword” (NLT). According to some extrabiblical sources, one of those unnamed persons sawed in half was Isaiah the prophet.

Isaiah, whose name means “the Lord is salvation,” is the masterful author of the book of Isaiah. His 55-to-60-year prophetic ministry presented the hope of salvation to the people of Judah in the reigns of the kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Ancient Jewish-Christian tradition suggests that Isaiah was martyred by King Manasseh, son of Hezekiah. According to the tradition, Isaiah was tied inside a sack, placed within the hollow of a tree trunk, and then sawed in two. This story traces back to a first-century, noncanonical book called the Ascension of Isaiah, which claims to tell the story of Isaiah’s death.

According to the account in the Ascension of Isaiah, Isaiah prophesies that King Hezekiah’s wicked son, Manasseh, will torture and kill him and renounce the commands and precepts that Hezekiah had previously delivered. After Hezekiah’s death, King Manasseh devotes himself to serving Satan, and Isaiah flees to the mountains of Bethlehem along with Ananias, Joel, Habakkuk, and other faithful servants of God. Belchira, a kind of middleman between Satan and the ungodly lovers of the world, accuses Isaiah of stirring up trouble against Manasseh. Belchira, motivated by Satan, hates Isaiah because of his significant prophecies of salvation through the coming Messiah. Manasseh has Isaiah arrested and then cut in half with a wooden saw.

The legend contained in the Ascension of Isaiah influenced other early Jewish and Christian writings. According to the Talmud, a collection of Jewish texts that record the oral tradition of the early rabbis, Isaiah hid inside a cedar tree and then was sawed in two by King Manasseh.

Tertullian and early Christian apologist Justin Martyr both mentioned the legend of Isaiah’s death in their writings, with Justin Martyr specifying that the saw used to execute Isaiah was made of wood (Dialogue with Trypho, 120). Bible scholar and philosopher Origen of Alexandria also upheld this traditional view of Isaiah’s death in his writings and offered various justifications for it.

While it’s certainly possible that Isaiah, the exquisitely faithful prince of prophets, died as the ancient legend specifies, there is no way to know for sure. The Bible does not give us any evidence that Isaiah lived into the reign of King Manasseh, nor does it tell us what year Isaiah died or how he died." from the article: How did Isaiah die?

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