“The World of Isaiah,” Old Testament Student Manual Kings-Malachi (1982), 171–77
“Enrichment F,” Old Testament Student Manual Kings-Malachi, 171–77
The importance of the prophet Isaiah is attested to in many scriptural declarations. The Savior Himself commanded that we should search his words diligently (see 3 Nephi 23:1). When did Isaiah live? With whom did he labor? What were the conditions and circumstances in his day? Little is preserved about the life and times of many of the Old Testament prophets, but the period of Isaiah’s ministry has been generally well documented. Elder Bruce R. McConkie identified fifteen chapters in the writings of Isaiah as primarily about the local or historical events of Isaiah’s day (see chart in “Ten Keys to Understanding Isaiah,” Ensign, Oct. 1973, pp. 82–83). This enrichment section is to help you better understand the world in which Isaiah lived, the challenges he faced, and the works he accomplished.
The following chart, with brief summary statements, outlines the chronology of the events of the prophet Isaiah’s ministry. The narrative from both the books of Kings and Chronicles and the pertinent passages from Isaiah present what is known of this period in the history of the kingdom of Judah. (See the Enrichment A.) Dates in parentheses refer to happenings in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Dates with asterisks show flashbacks in the chronology as it is recorded in the scriptures.
Azariah, or Uzziah (probably his royal or throne name), was made king in Judah. He ruled twenty-four years jointly with his father, fifty-two years total.
Uzziah sought counsel from the prophet Zechariah (not the Zechariah who wrote the Old Testament book). Uzziah subjugated the Philistines and the Arabians.
Judah was established as a strong military power. Jerusalem was well fortified and the army well equipped. Agriculture was also improved. Some neighbors paid tribute to this powerful state.
Uzziah, lifted up in pride, assumed the right to officiate in the temple. His unauthorized acts brought the judgment of God against him: leprosy. His son Jotham ruled jointly with him for ten years.
Isaiah is mentioned as having recorded the history of Uzziah’s reign. We do not have this record today.
Zachariah ruled six months as king in Israel (Northern Kingdom) after his father Jeroboam II.
Shallum ruled one month in Israel before his assassination.
Menahem began a ten-year reign of terror and wickedness in the Northern Kingdom.
The Northern Kingdom was attacked by the Assyrians. Tiglath-pileser III (also known as Pul) secured tribute from the king of Israel, who had exacted the money from the wealthy of his kingdom. The ancient historical texts of Tiglath-pileser III at Nimrod confirm this scriptural account. These texts report tribute of gold and silver paid by “Menahem of Samaria” (see James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p. 283).
Pekahiah ruled two years in Israel before being assassinated by his successor.
Pekah, son of Remaliah, reigned over the Northern Kingdom. The king formed an alliance with the Syrians against the Assyrians. The coalition also threatened Judah. (See the continuation of this narrative below: 2 Kings 15:37; 16:5–6.) Finally Tiglath-pileser III captured the northern regions and took many of the inhabitants hostage. This action opened the way for Hoshea to obtain the throne of the Northern Kingdom. Isaiah referred to this conquest in warning of further threats to the nations of God—both Israel and Judah (see Isaiah 9:1).
Jotham enlarged the temple gate and strengthened the fortifications of the nation of Judah. The Ammonites attempted to overthrow the tribute of Judah begun by King Uzziah, but they were not successful.
The coalition of Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Syria, began an attempt to subjugate Judah during this era.
Ahaz ruled jointly with his father for three years until Jotham’s death.
Ahaz adopted idolatrous practices, including human sacrifice of some of his own children.
The coalition of Israel (Ephraim) and Syria attacked Judah and Jerusalem. They were not successful in their conquest, although they gained some territory.
Isaiah was directed to go to King Ahaz and warn him against making any political alliances with Assyria.
Isaiah prophesied that the threatened conquest would not be successful. He further warned that Ephraim (Israel) would be destroyed as a nation.
The prophet testified that Judah would be preserved to fulfill its foreordained destiny as the house of the Messiah.
Isaiah prophesied that Judah would be overrun by the Assyrians but would not be destroyed as would the people of Israel and Syria. He also prophesied the fall of Syria and Damascus (see Isaiah 17:1–4) and even the people of Israel (Samaria and Ephraim; see Isaiah 28:1–4).
Isaiah prophesied not only of Assyria’s destruction of Samaria but also of the eventual fall of Jerusalem and of all wickedness. Assyria’s destruction was also shown.
Ahaz rejected the counsel of the prophet Isaiah and sought an alliance with Assyria.
Judah, with her weak leadership, was attacked by Edom and Philistine neighbors, who occupied some cities and territory of the nation.
In an attempt to secure the aid of the Assyrians, Ahaz offered tribute from the treasures of the temple and the throne. Wealthy people were forced to contribute. Ancient Assyrian texts also report this tribute from Ahaz. (See D. Winton Thomas, ed., Documents of Old Testament Times, pp. 55–56.) The Assyrians did not, however, aid Judah against her enemies.
Ahaz visited Tiglath-pileser III in the conquered city of Damascus. He directed that a pagan, altar-like throne patterned after one he saw in Damascus be erected at the temple complex in Jerusalem.
Ahaz offered sacrifices to the idols of Damascus.
Ahaz destroyed or altered some of the temple vessels and closed the temple. He also established places of idolatry throughout the land.
Hoshea was made king over Israel by the Assyrians. The historical annals of the Assyrian kings found at Calah, or Nimrod, attest to the enthronement of Hoshea as vassal king by the Assyrians (see Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 283–84).
In time King Hoshea rebelled against the Assyrians. When Shalmaneser V became king of Assyria in 727 B.C., Hoshea used the change of rulers to break the tribute agreement, and he conspired to obtain assistance from Egypt. Messengers were sent to So of Egypt. This king is generally believed to be the Ethiopian conqueror of Egypt who ruled there as founder of the twenty-fifth dynasty. (See Thomas, Documents of Old Testament Times, p. 63; Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, p. 450.)
The land of Israel and its capital Samaria were besieged for three years. Near the end of this period, Sargon II became ruler in Assyria.
The destruction of Samaria came at the hands of Sargon II. The people of Israel were taken captive by Sargon and exiled to Assyria. Some question Sargon’s rule, but palace inscriptions about this ruler list him as “conqueror of Samaria” (Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 284). These ancient writings likewise affirm the exile of the inhabitants of the ten northern tribes (see Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 284–85). This large group later escaped from their captivity and were lost to the scriptural narrative, hence the designation “lost tribes” of Israel. (See Enrichment D.)
The nation of Judah was the only nation remaining after the Assyrian devastation.
The Assyrians resettled the conquered and depopulated territory of Israel, particularly the region of Samaria, the capital. The wall inscriptions from Sargon’s palace affirm that people from Mesopotamia were relocated in Israel to be a new tribute state to Assyria.
The new settlers experienced much difficulty there. Their superstitious conclusion was that they did not know the “God of the land” (2 Kings 17:26). Finally, the Assyrians sent Levites and priests from captivity into Israel to teach the new inhabitants of their God. They worshiped both the Lord and the gods they had brought with them. Eventually the new settlers worshiped chiefly Jehovah and intermarried with the priestly families. In time they became known as the Samaritans. (see Ezra 4:1–3.)
Assyrian texts report a number of rebellions in the conquered territories and even in the newly-conquered Samaria. Gaza and Damascus were reestablished as Assyrian provinces. (See Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 285.) The rebellious vassals of Assyria sought aid from Egypt. In the face of such action, the prophet Isaiah warned Judah against the unstable Egyptians. The prophet further warned of Assyria’s defeat of weakened Egypt, now dominated by foreign (Ethiopian) rulers. The Babylonians were also rebelling, eventually causing Assyria to shift her attention and presence from the land of Israel. (See John Bright, A History of Israel, p. 263.)
Hezekiah succeeded his father, Ahaz, as king. He attempted to purge the land of the idolatry of his father. Even the brazen serpent from the days of Moses (see Numbers 21:8–9) had become an object of false worship, so Hezekiah destroyed it.
Hezekiah reopened the temple and challenged the Levites to prepare themselves to administer there.
The Levites carried out the work of cleansing and restoring the temple.
True worship and sacrifice were reestablished in the nation of Judah.
Hezekiah sent messengers inviting all the nation to come to Jerusalem for the reinstitution of the feast of the Passover. Many throughout the land scorned and rejected his call.
The faithful who responded to the invitation rejoiced in the celebration in Judah of the sacred festival of the Passover.
The worshipers continued their efforts to rid the land of the institutions of false worship.
The priesthood was organized and appointed to their continuing functions. Tithes were given for the support of the priests.
The administration of temporal affairs was appointed, the rights of the Levites being established by lineal descent and birthright.
Sargon, king of Assyria, was killed in battle, and revolutions followed throughout the Assyrian Empire. Hezekiah refused to pay the heavy tribute that his father had begun, and he sought an Egyptian alliance. Isaiah had warned the people of the folly of expecting help from Egypt. (see Isaiah 30:1–7; 31:1–3.)
The account of the fall of Israel and Samaria in the north to Shalmaneser V and Sargon II is repeated. This account was a reminder of the power of the Assyrians.
Sennacherib, the successor to Sargon, swept into Judah and the territory of the Philistines to enforce the tribute agreements. The annals of this invader king record the capture of forty-six cities or forts and many villages. The extended siege of Hezekiah at Jerusalem is described: “Himself I made a prisoner … like a bird in a cage” (Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 288). The Assyrians were headquartered in Lachish, twenty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem. Hezekiah sent tribute, mostly from the temple, to sue for peace. The receipt of the tribute is confirmed in ancient texts. (See Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 288.)
In spite of the offering, the siege continued. Hezekiah sought to strengthen the fortifications of the city and moved to protect the water supply. A conduit or water course was dug out of limestone rock to bring the water safely into the city where it could be stored (see 2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:30). In warning of the future destruction of Jerusalem, Isaiah spoke of these preparations made by Hezekiah (see Isaiah 22:8–11). This tunnel exists today and is known as Hezekiah’s, or the Siloam, Tunnel. An ancient inscription in the tunnel tells of the construction and is generally associated with Hezekiah’s project. (See Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 321; Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Hezekiah’s Tunnel.”)
As the siege continued, the Assyrians sent representatives of Sennacherib to demand the surrender of the city. Hezekiah sent his officials outside the city walls to negotiate.
The Assyrian spokesman challenged the people’s ability to withstand his forces. He criticized the alliance Judah had attempted to make with Egypt. Finally he blasphemously claimed that the God of Judah had commanded Judah’s destruction.
The representatives of Hezekiah requested that the negotiations be carried out in the Syrian language (Aramaic) rather than Hebrew, so the people would not understand the exchange.
The Assyrian official ignored the plea and, speaking loudly in the language of the people of Judah, declared the futility of trusting Hezekiah or their God for deliverance. He challenged the power of Judah’s God with the results of Assyria’s victories.
Since Hezekiah’s representatives had been ordered to remain silent, they said nothing at all but returned and reported to the king. In addition to the spoken challenges, the Assyrians sent written messages.
Upon receiving these challenges and the report of his representatives, Hezekiah sought counsel and direction from the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah prophesied the departure of the Assyrians and Sennacherib’s death upon his return to his homeland. The chief negotiator for the Assyrians returned to Sennacherib to report, and he found that the main force was engaged against Tibnah, not far from Lachish. The Assyrians were also threatened by attack from the Ethiopian pharaoh of Egypt. As a result, the pressure upon Jerusalem for surrender was increased.
Hezekiah, upon receiving the message from the Assyrians, sought the Lord in prayer for deliverance. The Lord’s response was revealed to the king though the prophet Isaiah, who declared the destruction of the Assyrians and the future blessing and prosperity of Judah. Hezekiah stood firm and faithfully obeyed the prophet’s direction. The people of Judah were delivered by the Lord. The Assyrians encamped around Jerusalem were smitten and suffered many casualties.
The Assyrians who survived broke off the campaign and withdrew to their homeland. There Sennacherib was assassinated, as Isaiah had prophesied. This miraculous deliverance brought Hezekiah and his God recognition and tribute from neighboring nations.
Hezekiah became very proud and became deathly ill. The prophet Isaiah declared that he would die. Hezekiah pleaded with the Lord, and before the prophet had left the courts of the king, Isaiah was inspired to return and tell Hezekiah that his life would be extended fifteen years. The treatment for his illness was also revealed. Isaiah also prophesied a sign as a witness of God’s hand in Hezekiah’s recovery. The daylight was extended, as indicated by the sundial of Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father (see Helaman 12:13–15).
Hezekiah continued to struggle with his pride, which had brought the Lord’s wrath upon him and his people. The Lord’s wrath was appeased only when Hezekiah became sufficiently humble.
The people and the king were richly blessed with material wealth.
Merodach-baladan (a Babylonian prince called Marduk-apal-iddina in his own land), who had earlier rebelled against Assyrian domination, sent messengers of good will with gifts for the king of Judah. Hezekiah responded by showing them all the state treasures and armaments.
The prophet Isaiah upbraided the king for openly revealing the wealth and defense of the kingdom. He also prophesied the future subjugation and destruction of Judah by the Babylonians.
The water tunnel in Jerusalem is mentioned as being one of Hezekiah’s significant accomplishments.
Manasseh joined his father as king. He apparently ruled jointly with his father during the last eleven years of his father’s reign.
When Manasseh began to reign alone, upon the death of his father, he led the prosperous nation deep into apostasy and idolatry. They did “more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel” (2 Kings 21:9). Prophets foretold the judgments and destruction that were to come upon this rebellious nation. Manasseh shed much innocent blood.
Essarhaddon, the Assyrian ruler and one of the sons of Sennacherib, again overran the land of Judah, placing twenty-one cities, including Jerusalem, under tribute. After this defeat and punishment at the hands of the Assyrians, Manasseh attempted some reforms among the people, but without result.
Isaiah was a prophet-statesman who ministered during the reigns of four kings of Judah. The historical records of this time come from three major sources: the second book of Kings, the second book of Chronicles, and the writings of Isaiah.
Tradition records that Isaiah died as a martyr by being sawed in two at the hands of Manasseh (see R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, 2:162; Hebrews 11:37).