I made the generalization that the messages of Amos and Isaiah are rightly called burdens, but that these messages are burdens worth bearing. Certainly it's easy to see why the message of Amos was a burden. Amos name even *means* burden, and it must have been especially difficult for Amos to speak his message when he *didn't* have the support of religious institutions. It's bad enough when political figures don't like what you have to say, but when the religious community too turns on you, well... how do you keep going? Nevertheless, despite the bleakness, there is a beautiful message of hope: "But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream."
Message of Isaiah, too, a burden. Isaiah himself specifically calls his messages to many nations burdens (Hebrew word: msah).
Isaiah also a burden in the sense that it is an enormously difficult book to understand, perhaps the most difficult of the OT is some ways. It is the book whose overall structure is hardest to figure out.
The temptation is to see the book not as a unity at all, but simply as a collection of prophetic texts written at various times and even by various people and put into a sort of anthology. Certainly we have works like this from the ancient world. The Sibylline oracles, for example, are collections of just this type.
Scholars have tried to identify various sources for Isaiah. At first, it was argued that 1-39 were by Isaiah the son of Amoz, and that the remainder of the book was written by a second man named Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah). Well, there is a certain amount of plausibility to this. But scholars don't know when to quit. The final chapters (from 55 on) were separated off as the work of an even later writer. And then scholars found more and more and more sources, advancing linguistic arguments to divide Isaiah up into many, many different sources. But none of this really helps much in understanding the book. You can read about the arguments one way or another in Archer if you like.
My view is that the work is Isaiah's own collection of his visions, compiled by the prophet himself late in his life. The first verse talks about visions in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.
Mall for excellent summaries of each ruler]
[Note that there is a real problems with dating this material. Jotham seems to overlap with Uzziah (ruling for an incapacitated father), and the dates here and below are conjectural.]
There isn't much on this man in 2nd Kings. We're just told that he was a good king, but that he didn't take the high places away, and that he was a leper.
II Chronicles gives us more. It tells us that he defeated the Philistines in battle, put the Ammonites to tribute, and fortified Judea. He dug wells and reclaimed agricultural land. And he maintained an army of 300,000 men. But it also tells us that, in his pride, he went into the temple to offer incense himself, and it was for this that he was stricken with leprosy.
There's a very interesting verse in II Chronicles (26:22) that
that ther rest of Uzziah's acts Isaiah the prophet, son of Amoz
wrote. Isaiah apparently wrote things we don't have.
Jotham, (751-736?) BC
II Kings says he also was a good King, and rather successful. He defeated the Ammonites, and they paid tribute again. His reign was prosperous, a time of building fortifications and cities. But, apparently, his people didn't follow his good example, and he died young–only 41 years old.
Ahaz (735-715 BC) (742-728?)
Jotham's son, who also ruled 16 years, was very bad news. He resorted to heathen sacrifice, even going so far as to offer his own children as burned sacrifices. During his reign, Judah suffered a major defeat against Syria and Israel. Pekah, son of Ramaliah, allied with Rezin, King of Syria, killed 120,000 men in a day, and carried off 200,000 women and children captive as far as Samaria. And only the intervention of a prophet named Oded were they released. II Chronicles specifically says that, on there release, the captors gave their naked prisoners clothing from the spoils of war.
Ahaz severely weakened, gets attacked by the Edomites and the Philistines...and calls on Assyria for help! The Assyrians take a bunch of treasure...and then don't help him. So Ahaz calls on the Syrian gods–figuring that, since Syria is doing well, their gods must be the right ones to worship. He closes down the temple, strips it of its wealth, and sets up the worship of all sorts of other gods.
Amazingly, Hezekiah, Ahaz' son was a different sort: a very
good king. How did he escape the influence of Ahaz?
The one clue is his mother's name, Abijah (Jehovah is my father).
With Hezekiah, temple is reopened, a great passover is celebrated, and
miraculously defeated. But then we get Manasseh.
Here's a summary of Manasseh's career from Christ-Centered Mall:
It's hard to
imagine that someone as righteous as Hezekiah
could turn out a son as evil as Manasseh. The wicked monarch reigned
than any other king in Israel's history - 55 years. Among his
(and there were many) was Manasseh's blatant worship of idols and his
of pagan rituals. "And he caused his children to pass through the fire
the valley of the son of Hinnom; also he observed times, and used
and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with
wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger"
Chronicles 33:6). When God's patience had run out, he sent the
punish Jerusalem. They put a hook in Manasseh's nose and bound him in
shackles and carried him off to prison in Babylon.
It was sometime in his dank and dreary cell that he came to his senses and called upon the Lord, "and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God" (II Chronicles 33:13).
Well, there are the ups and downs of Isaiah's long life. And it is in the context of these ups and downs that we should understand his prophecy and the nature of his burden.
In the first five chapters, we have some material that might be restrospective introduction, but most of the material written during reigns of Uzziah when things seemed to be going well. Here, the message was burdensome because he has to give a message of judgement to a complacent, self-satisfied people who think everything is going well. In Chapter 5, we have Isaiah's call--in the year Uzziah dies. Again, call is to a complacent people, warning of impending judgement.
From Chapter 7 on, though, Ahaz reign...and everyone new there were problems. Question: how to address those problems.
(Groups–First 12 chapters...where are the burdens?)
1. Has to criticize people's religious ceremonies
God hates their festivals!
2. Sees mistreatment of poor (1:16-18)--has to tell people what true religion is! We'd much rather have the ceremonies!
3. Sees justice turned to injustice (end of Chapter 1)
4. Message supposed to be for all nations, not just Jews (2:1-3)
5. Contrast between material prosperity and religious harlotry (2:7-8)
6. Children are their oppressors and women rule over them (3:12)
7. Ingratitude (Chapter 5--my beloved's vineyard)
8. Woe to those that call evil good, and good evil
9. Vision itself (Chapter 6) "Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips." And note--he is told people won't listen--that their hearts are going to be hard.
Note name of son Shearjashub (remnant shall return).
son and meets Ahaz at tough time--tells him not to worry about Israel