In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah. He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom: (Ezra 1:1)
Relate: Who wrote Isaiah? The answer to this question at first glance is obvious: Isaiah did. Well then, I have an immediate follow up: Did Esther write Esther? Did Job write Job? Was Jonah written by Jonah or about him? Is Malachi a name or a title? It is easy to assume that the name of a book proves authorship but that is clearly not the case. Even in books where the name is most likely the author of most of it, internal evidence makes it clear that they did not write all. (Amos and Jeremiah are great examples of this) Beyond that: the names, the order, and the groupings of the books of the Bible we have today differ quite a bit from those used found in the Tanakh (which Jesus and the early apostles would have used). The two biggest examples is that the Tanakh combines the minor prophets into one book and it also combines Ezra with Nehemiah. Does that mean the Jews believed they all had one author (For the prophets, certainly not. For Ezra/Nehemiah… probably yes)
Some of you at this point know, or at least think you know where I am going with this. For the past century or so, the debate about Isaiah has been almost a litmus test for conservative Christians. If you believe one man wrote it all you are orthodox. If not, you are a liberal who does not believe in the miraculous with an agenda to destroy the credibility of scripture. Well, I am not a liberal (at least not with regards to scripture). I do believe in the miraculous and the predictive power of certain prophesies (I myself have been miraculously healed and personally know people who have been raised from the dead). I am fully convinced that scripture is authoritative and infallible. In fact, I believe that so much I have memorized six books of the Bible and significant chunks of others.
The arguments of those who believe Isaiah can all be contributed to one author generally boil down to two things: 1) Higher critics only separate them into two (or three) authors because they cannot believe that a 200 year prophesy can come true. 2) In the New Testament both the gospels and the epistles quote both (or all three) sections of Isaiah attributing it to… well, “Isaiah”.
Already I am starting to go long on this and I am sure some of you are bored out of your mind with this stuff so I will try to keep my responses brief. With regard to #1, the Cyrus predictions are not the primary reason for the division(s). In fact for many scholars it is barely or not even at all a factor. The primary reasons for the division are first of all the large change in style and focus of the writing between the first 39 chapters and the remaining 27, and secondly there are internal evidences of a change in time and circumstances. One example of this is how in the first 39 chapters Assyria is Israel’s primary nemesis and Babylon only gets mention as one among many nations. From chapter 40 on Babylon is the primary enemy of Israel while the only mention of Assyria is as a nation long gone from the scene. Finally, a question about the Isaiah prophesy. If it was written 200 years in advance by the most famous of Israel’s prophets, why did Ezra not say “the Lord fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah” or at least “the Lord fulfilled the prophesies of Isaiah and Jeremiah”? While I believe Second Isaiah’s mention of Cyrus was a predictive prophesy, I do not believe it was a 200 year old prophesy or even common knowledge yet at the time of the writing of the book of Ezra.
With regard to argument #2 it is true that the gospels refer back to every section of Isaiah. That does not mean nearly as much as we would like it to mean. First of all, we must understand that the Bible authors did not hold to the same understanding of authorship or ideas of intellectual property or copyright that we do today. Referring to the prophesy of Isaiah was much more a location marker than an identity one. Nowhere in the New Testament does it come anywhere near explicitly stating that the entire book of Isaiah was authored by a man named Isaiah. In the first 39 chapters, Isaiah is explicitly mentioned by name eighteen times. From chapter 40 onwards… not once.
React: Really, I think the title of a book I read more than a decade back best summarizes my opinion on this entire debate. That title is Adventures In Missing The Point. If I remember correct, that book has absolutely nothing to do with the one, two, or three Isaiahs debate or even any similar issues. It does, however, so perfectly describe what has happened when this issue gets brought to the forefront. First of all, this prophesy and/or historical event is proof that God can work through even the wickedest of rulers to accomplish his purposes. Even though he is called in the Bible God’s anointed shepherd the historical Cyrus was a Machiavellian expansionist who cared little for the true God but allowed the Jews to return only for reasons of stability so that he could focus his attention on his wars elsewhere.
Not only does this event teach that God can work through evil kings (be they named Cyrus, Trump, Clinton, Erdoğan, or… ), but even more He is the author of reconciliation. He did not forget His people. He did not leave them to suffer in their well deserved punishment. No, He remembered Israel and brought them back home. No matter how bad you or I might have been in our past, we don’t come close to the Hebrew people at the times of Manasseh or the last three kings. If His grace is sufficient for them, it certainly covers the greatest of our sins. God is the God of second chances and that is what the story of Cyrus is really all about.
Thank You so much for not giving me what I deserve. Even when I do suffer through the consequences of my sin and even sometimes the sins of the generations before me, thank You for not leaving me to wallow in it. Thank You for giving me the second and third and fourth and… for continuing to forgive me every time I truly ask. Help me to learn from those failures that I might walk straighter. Help me to use the grace You have extended me to in turn extend it to the world around me. Let Your forgiveness seen in me be a light that would shine Your glory to everyone I meet.