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Isaiah's prophetic techniques to describe the future

Julian Spriggs M.A.

How do the prophets describe the future?

These are some techniques the prophets use to describe the future. The prophet stands in his own time in history and looks forward from that time. This is a totally different perspective from our current viewpoint. The major historical events the prophet has in their future are merely dates in distant history for us. Most of the examples in this study are from the Book of Isaiah, but other pre-exilic prophets use similar methods of predicting the future.

Look at history from the perspective of the prophet

From our perspective, time differences between different events can appear to be ignored, so different events in history appear to be the same event. For example, in Isaiah the coming of Cyrus and suffering servant are described together, but were actually 500 years apart. The promise of Immanuel was during the reign of King Ahaz, but was fulfilled 700 years later.

Often in the prophets, it is impossible to tell when the future event is near, or far off. They are often mingled into one picture, so history and eschatology become one. Both are described as ‘the Day of the Lord’.

From the perspective of a pre-exilic prophet, the major future event looming ahead is the Exile. This is to Assyria for the northern kingdom of Israel, and to Babylon for the southern kingdom of Judah. The fall of Samaria, fall of Jerusalem, and the exile are the most frequently predicted events in the Old Testament.

Beyond the exile are three other events: the return of Israel to the land following the exile, the coming of the Messiah, and the final consummation, including the final judgement and eternal state of bliss. Looking ahead, the prophet will often move between these four events with little or no indication of any time periods between them. All four events are ‘the Day of the Lord’, which will happen ‘on that Day’.

Judgement from Isaiah’s perspective

Isaiah predicts God’s judgements coming at various times in history, all of which are described as ‘the Day of the Lord’. The judgements are coming in ever-increasing intensity, the earlier ones each being a foreshadowing of the final judgement. These include, the invasion by Assyria (especially 701 BC), the judgement on pagan nations, the exile in Babylon, and the final judgement.

Historical acts of judgement from earlier times in the OT are also used as pictures foreshadowing the future judgement. These include the flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah.

There is a connection between the near event and the far event. Judgement and deliverance is coming soon, and should be understood as the breaking in of the end into history, giving prophecies an urgency and making them relevant in all ages, whether for OT Israel, or for the church.

Salvation from Isaiah's perspective

Isaiah also predicts the coming of God’s salvation at different times in history. Again, all these are described as ‘the day of the Lord’. Predictions of salvation are also given in increasing intensity, with the earlier ones being a foretaste of the final age to come. Jerusalem will be delivered from Assyria (701 BC), Israel will be delivered from exile in Babylon through Cyrus. There will be a greater deliverance through the coming of God’s suffering servant, and finally the new heaven and new earth.

2. The Day of the Lord

The Day of the Lord is the time of God’s intervention in history. It overshadows all of human history, and is therefore always imminent. The eschatological Day of the Lord is final and universal, compared with the limited manifestations of it throughout history. For the prophets, they are the same event. The prophet does not distinguish the different events. So the events of 701 BC, including both judgement and deliverance, foreshadow the greater judgement and deliverance on the final Day of the Lord. Within a single oracle, the prophet will frequently move backwards and forwards in time between an imminent historical judgement and the final Day of the lord.

In chapter 2, Isaiah predicts the final Day of the Lord. The series of oracles begin with a positive message of hope, only to be fulfilled in the days of the Messiah, while the historical context is eighth century Judah. He describes the wealth of Judah during the reign of Uzziah (2:7), then moves to predictions of ‘that Day’. This is on a larger level than the events in Judah in 701 BC or 586 BC, as he speaks of the day against the pride of the nations (2:12-17). He then moves the focus back to Judah giving a prediction of siege and famine (3:1-5), events which will happen more immediately in their history.

Chapter 13 contains prophecies against Babylon, specifically predicting the fall of Babylon, which happened in 539 BC. However these predictions are mingled with predictions of the final judgement making one overall picture of judgement. These predictions of dramatic overthrow of Babylon do not fit the way Cyrus peacefully took the city in 539 BC. Some of the language is quite apocalyptic, predicting the end of the world with the stars and sun no longer giving light (13:10), while others predict a violent overthrow of Babylon (13:18). Historically, Babylon gradually declined during Persian rule, and eventually became deserted a few centuries later, when it did become a haunt of wild animals.

Chapter 34 predicts doom on Edom. The historical Day of the Lord on Edom is a foretaste of the final Day of the Lord. Edom is singled out as a representative of the nations. For Edom, the Day of the Lord is now past, for other nations it is still to come. The prophecy against Edom becomes a warning to all nations and a guarantee that the final day will come. The oracle begins with universal judgement on all nations (34:1-4), after which the focus moves to the day of vengeance on Edom (34:5-8). It then moves beyond the historical judgment on Edom to eternal burning (34:9-10), then back to Edom being deserted in a historical judgement (34:11-15).

Eschatology of the prophets

The prophets foresaw the ‘Day of the Lord’ which would inaugurate the messianic age. In this new age of peace, there was no more weeping, disease, sin or death. There will be justice and righteousness under the rule of the God’s king, the Messiah. There will be true worship in God’s temple, the nations will come and join Israel’s worship. There will be amazing fruitfulness, wealth and prosperity.

Compared with the pessimistic Jewish apocalyptic, the prophets were realistic optimists. There was a downhill tendency when things are left to themselves. Both spiritually and physically, the natural tendency is for things to decay.

However, there is a second principle at work, that of rejuvenation. God is at work, bringing salvation, allowing eschatology to intrude into history. This continues to happen through the Gospel and the ministry of the church. The coming of the kingdom of God in the NT is often described by theologians as the ‘Now but not yet’.

3. Salvation is a new Exodus

The Exodus was the great event when God liberated his people out of bondage and slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The past exodus from Egypt is used as a pattern for a future second exodus. The prophet looks back to the exodus from Egypt, and uses the same language to predict a second exodus will be far greater than the first.

God will deliver his people from slavery

This exodus comes on two levels: the exodus from captivity in Babylon under Cyrus the deliverer, and the greater exodus from the captivity of sin achieved by God’s Servant the deliverer.

God will lead his people

The God who made a way through the Red Sea, will now do a new thing. He will make a highway in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert (43:16-21). In the first exodus, God made a way through the Red Sea out of Egypt. In the second exodus, God will make a way through the desert out of Babylon. He will remove all obstacles (42:15), and will provide guidance.

God promises protection for this journey (43:1-2)

This is both on the journey back to the promised land, through the water, river and fire, as well as through the Christian life.

God will provide for his people

Following the first exodus, during the time in the wilderness, God provided manna, quails and water from the rock. In a similar manner, during the second exodus God will provide water and shade (41:17-20). This is more than merely physical water, but a spiritual provision, the water in the desert becomes the living water of the spirit. “For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground, I will pour my spirit on your descendants, and my blessings on your offspring” (44:3). In the Hebrew poetry, the physical water is parallelled with the pouring out of God’s spirit. The transformation of the desert looks ahead to the new creation in Christ, a spiritual renewal. This is a similar analogy used by Jesus when he talked about streams of living water (Jn 4:14).

It will be God’s servant will provide all the aspects of the exodus theme (49:8-11). He will deliver God’s people (v9a), he will provide for and protect his people (v9b-10a), he will guide God’s people (v10b) and he will make a way for God’s people through the desert (v11).

4. God’s future salvation described in terms of good times in the past

The description of the glorious future is described by references and allusions to the golden age of Solomon and the building of the temple. These give a picture of the future, which will be even better than the past. (60:5,7,11-13). The return from exile in Babylon, even though it is still in their future, is a picture of the greater salvation, which is also described as a return. The people of God from all corners of the world will be gathered to the promised land by the servant. (27:12-13). The holy mountain of Jerusalem looks ahead to the heavenly Mt. Zion, the dwelling place of God.

In the future, God will extend his hand a second time to gather people from four corners of earth, as from Egypt (11:11-16). The great event of the original exodus from slavery in Egypt, is used to look ahead to the greater exodus in the future.

5. The prophets describe the future using OT terms and types they are familiar with

These include the temple, the law, feasts, and the nation of Israel. For Isaiah the great worship of the future includes the temple, sacrifices and Jewish feasts, even though this appears to contradict the NT where there is no longer any need for a temple or sacrifices. Even in the new heaven and new earth, Isaiah describes the whole world keeping the Jewish feasts, new moon and Sabbath with priests and Levites (66:21-23). Ezekiel had a vision of restoration in the future as a huge temple and the whole land arranged around it. Ezekiel was a priest, so it is not surprising that he saw the ideal future in this way.

King David, God’s anointed one, the ideal king, whose heart was for God, foreshadows the Messiah, the Son of David, the greater David.

6. The future is a reversal of the present

The negative will become positive. The present misery will be turned into a glorious future. War will be turned to peace, domination by enemies will be turned to power over enemies, the desert will be turned to a garden, poverty will be turned to prosperity, and injustice turned to righteousness.

In Isaiah chapter nine, Isaiah declares that the Lord raised enemies, the Arameans from the east, and Philistines from the west, to devour Israel (9:11-12). After Judah and Ephraim turn against each other in war (9:20-21), the return is promised (11:11-12). In this reversal, Judah and Ephraim become friends, and plunder the Philistines and Ammonites (11:13-14).

7. The future is time of covenant blessing

The future blessing is especially described as abundance and fruitfulness of the land, often in exaggerated terms. The curse is turned into blessing, the grain is no longer for enemies, but eaten in holy courts (62:8). In the new heaven and new earth (65:17-25), all the negative aspects of the present will be ‘no more’ (v20), and be replaced with covenant blessing (v21-22), including a reversal of the present order, when the lion will lie down with the lamb (v25).

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John


Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
OT People Search
God the Creator
The Importance of Paradox
The Jewish Calendar
Holy War in the Ancient World
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
Ephah Converter (volumes)
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
What is a created kind?
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
God the Creator
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?
Paul and the Greek Games

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical archaeology in museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also pages of photographs of important artifacts from the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
British Museum Photos
Israel Museum Photos
Paris Louvre Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS