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The impractical prophet
The book of Isaiah begins with a superscript:
“The prophecies of Isaiah son of Amoz, who prophesied concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Isaiah 1:1).
This emphasizes the historical setting of Isaiah’s prophecy. For Isaiah, prophecy and history were inseparable. The reader is told at the outset how to relate to Isaiah’s prophecies: as realistic speeches with a specific historical matrix.
The historical matrix of the first eight chapters of Isaiah, the subject of this article, is the Syro-Ephraimite War.
The time is about 734–732 B.C. Assyria is emerging as the world’s superpower; it has already invaded some of the lands of the eastern Mediterranean seaboard. Israel itself is no longer one nation as it was in the days of Solomon. The kingdom is now split—Ephraim (Israel) in the north and Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem, in the south (as we learn from 1 Kings 12 and 2 Chronicles 10). The northern kingdom, Ephraim, has allied itself with its neighbor Aram (Syria) in an effort to withstand Assyrian penetration. Aram and Ephraim naturally want Judah to join their coalition. Nevertheless, Ahaz, the Judahite king, hesitates. When Ahaz continues to hesitate, Aram and Ephraim attack Jerusalem in order to replace Ahaz with their own supporter, Ben-Taval (see Isaiah 7:6), a man who is not even of the House of David!

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