Have you ever read a book and felt like you understood absolutely nothing? Well, don't worry, because that's how most people feel when they try to read the Book of Isaiah. It's confusing, there are some weird words in there that no one has ever heard before (seriously, what is a "zeset"), and overall it just reads like someone was playing Mad Libs with scripture.
But fear not! With this handy guide, we'll help you understand what exactly is going on in this book - or at least give you enough context to fake it until you make it. Shall we begin?
What is Isaiah?
Before we even get started with dissecting anything, let's first answer the question: what even IS Isaiah? Well, dear friend (can I call you friend?), Isaiah is one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament in the Bible. It consists of 66 chapters full of prophecy about God's judgment against Israel and Judah for their sins...and also some stuff about how someday everything will be rainbows and sunshine.
One interesting thing to note: while many believe that one author wrote all 66 chapters of Isaiah, there are actually three distinct sections within the book which suggest multiple authors. So basically reading Isaiah is like trying to solve a literary puzzle - fun times!
Section One: Chapters 1-39
This section covers warnings against Assyria as well as Babylonian captivity if Israel doesn't stop sinning so much already geez guys c'mon.
Section Two: Chapters 40-55
The tone starts changing here; now instead of threats against Israel/Judah/etc., there are messages intended for comfort during exile reminding everyone that eventually something something salvation will happen.
Section Three: Chapters 56-66
It’s back to doomsday predictions as Jerusalem is described as being full of rebellious sinners who will be punished unless they shape up and realize God's power.
Funny Words in Isaiah
As previously mentioned, there are some rather strange words used throughout the book of Isaiah. Here are just a few:
Zeset (Isaiah 41:20): Seriously what even is this? Some translations use "cedar" instead - but I think we can all agree that zeset would have been way cooler.
Tishbite (various): Not only does Elijah get referred to as a tishbite, but Elisha's dad was also one. This word has nothing to do with tissues or bites, and actually refers to the region these men were from - Tishbe!
And those are...actually pretty much it for weird words! Huh. Guess it's not so bad after all?
Or maybe your brain just shut down trying to remember how many 'h' letters were in the alphabet backwards
One thing that most people tend to enjoy about Isaiah is its poetic language - there are plenty of verses that manage to stick with you long after you've finished reading.
"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." (Isaiah 1:18)
Cheesy? Maybe a little bit. Beautifully written? You betcha!
Another good one:
"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20)
This passage really illustrates Isaiah's tendency towards calling people out on their bullcrap - something I think we can all appreciate.
Although the people in power don't often seem too thrilled about that fact
So what does Isaiah have to say beyond just poetic language and weird words? Here are a few important themes you'll find throughout the book:
Isaiah spends a LOT of time talking about judgment - specifically, God's judgment against Israel/Judah/anyone else who isn't following His commands. This is where all of those doomsday predictions come in; according to Isaiah, sinners will be punished severely.
It's not all bad news! There are also several beautiful passages detailing how God will eventually save everyone from their sins as long as they repent and pledge themselves to Him (which sounds pretty fair, honestly). It's very much a "you [messed up], but it's okay because I love you" type deal.
Trusting In God Alone
One recurring theme throughout the entirety of scripture is trusting in God alone for strength and guidance. And lo and behold - this shows up plenty in Isaiah too. Essentially, if you're going through struggles or difficult times (which given how much talk there is about punishment/judgment/etc., seems to be most peoples' lot), your best bet is to put your faith entirely in God.
And maybe cut back on some of that idol worship while we're at it)
Conclusion: Decoding Isaiah Like A Pro (Or At Least Somewhat Competent Person)
In short: yes, Isaiah can be tough to decipher at first...but hey, so can virtually any other ancient text ever written. With some context provided by this handy-dandy guide along with some determination on your part, understanding what exactly was going on within this prophetic book may just be closer than you think!
Now if only someone could explain what a "zeset" is...