Struggling to Understand the Book of Isaiah?

By Adam Brown –

Reading and learning about the book of Isaiah has been one of the great joys of my life. And yet, if I am being honest, trying to derive any meaning from this book has also been one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever endured in any context at any time.

When I initially began to read Isaiah, I found the book to be extremely disorienting, fragmented, and beyond my reach. I was never quite sure of the flow or the historical backdrop in any given section. It was difficult to be certain how to bridge from this ancient Israelite prophecy to today’s Canadian context. It was also unclear to me how to close the gap from Old Testament prophecy to appropriate Christian application.

The result of all these struggles was epic boredom. For years, I avoided the book as if it were a fourteenth century plague. Every time I opened the book to try to read it, my brain glossed over, my mind shut down, and my Bible reading became an absolute drudgery.

I knew of many people who claimed that Isaiah was their favourite book in the Bible. Privately, I assumed that these people were total phonies. They must be lying, to me and maybe even to themselves. Why would they lie? Well, thought I, because it sounded good and smart and superior to love a book that most of the world could not understand or enjoy.

It was because of all of my personal difficulties with Isaiah that I decided that I wanted to focus my Ph.D. study in that very book. Now, let it be known, I did not pick Isaiah because I liked it. I picked it because I had to either learn to love it or walk away from it forever.

It was a high-risk/high-reward academic wager. It was entirely possible that I would flame out, and quickly. It was also possible, however (and this was the hope), that I might just come to grasp a little of the very thing that floated just beyond my reach. If I could just get my fingers to the edge of the hem of Isaiah’s robe, then maybe, just maybe, I might get a hold of him, pull him closer, and begin to see what all the fuss was about.

Five years after embarking on this gamble, I walked across the platform to receive my diploma as a Doctor of Philosophy in Christian Theology. I hadn’t dropped out. Yes, I had thought about quitting many times, but could never ultimately do it. Instead, I became a doctor in Isaianic studies.

Now, having said all of this, I still would not say thst I am an expert in this book. Many mysteries and riddles remain far beyond my reach. Nevertheless, I can say this: I have come to treasure Isaiah, both the prophet and the book.

At some point, I finally broke through the wall that had been keeping me on the outside, and the vista was breathtaking. Like a range of mountains all around me, I was dwarfed by the majesty of the revelation. Now, I fall prostrate before Isaiah’s God and marvel at the depth and height and length and breadth of His salvific work.

I want this for you too. If you, like me, have struggled to make sense of the book of Isaiah, then let me give you a key to unlock the door. In a word, this key is Structure. If you can come to an understanding of the structure of the book, then the rest will begin to make sense. Of course, you will still need to walk through the door and have a look around. Nevertheless, I have found that understanding Isaiah’s structure makes all the difference in the world:

Isaiah Mountain Range 586 x 352

Last Summer, I preached the whole book of Isaiah in 5 sermons at Muskoka Bible Centre. With permission, I have posted these sermons on the Southshore website.

While I am hesitant to promote my own preaching, I do think that these sermons are a helpful introduction to a book that, for most of us, is initially sealed shut. Thus, I encourage you to take a few hours to work through these five sermons by following this link:

The Gospel in Isaiah: Sermons

As a teaser – to whet your appetite – I will conclude this brief autobiographical article by attaching structural charts of the major sections of the book. There is much debate in the scholarly world about how to structure the book of Isaiah. These charts are my best effort to date.

If you want an interpretation of these charts, you will have to listen to the sermons!

I sincerely pray that God’s Spirit would help you to see His glory in and through the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah - Major Structural Divisions 586 x 352
Isaiah 1-6 - Structure 586 x 352
Isaiah 7-39 - Structure 586 x 352
Isaiah 40-55 - Structure 586 x 352

Isaiah 56-66 - Structure 586 x 352
Isaiah Mountain Range 586 x 352

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