The Faith of Isaiah

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, June 10, 2018 0 comments

by Logan Ames

This past week, I got to watch the last hour of a movie that, having grown up in the 1990s, I consider a classic. Braveheart is the story of William Wallace, who led the Scottish revolt against the king of England beginning in the late 13th century. The theme of the movie is Wallace’s quest for independence for his people in the face of the uncertainty of so many of his comrades, who at times boldly followed him and other times questioned his willingness to take on the establishment. During one conversation with his close friend and fellow rebel, Hamish, Wallace is considering taking the Scottish nobles up on their offer to join forces to go after the enemy. Hamish tries to convince Wallace that it’s a trap (he would be proven correct on that), but Wallace is willing to take that chance because he knows it’s the only way they could possibly achieve victory. Hamish, fearing the trap will lead to their gruesome torture and death, declares, “I don’t want to be a martyr." Wallace responds, “Nor I. I want to live. I want a home, and children, and peace. I’ve asked God for these things. It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom."

Even after William Wallace was captured, he held true to the cause of freedom, refusing to confess his “crime” and swear allegiance to the king of England, even while being tortured and killed. He demonstrated that it is better to die fighting for what’s right than live having accepted what is wrong. In Hebrews 11:37, we read about the unnamed heroes of the faith who experienced excruciating pain as they were martyred but never abandoned their allegiance to God. One of the descriptors is that “they were sawed in two." This is an interesting category of martyrs because we do not find any specific stories of someone being killed for their faith in this way anywhere in Scripture. As I’ve found in doing some research, a theologian named John Gill explains in his exposition of the Bible that other historical Jewish texts, including the Talmuds and the Midrash, have references to the death of Isaiah the prophet. These texts and Jewish tradition hold that Isaiah feared the evil King Manasseh, who took issue with some of his prophecies. Isaiah then ran away from the king and hid inside a cedar tree, but the outer edges of his clothing were visible and he was found. King Manasseh ordered that the tree be sawed in two while Isaiah was still in it, and this is how he was martyred.

Admittedly, I don’t have copies of any of these historical texts in my posession, so I cannot verify their words. However, I do believe that Hebrews 11 is true because, like the rest of Scripture, it is inspired by the very breath of God (2 Timothy 3:16). As the writer of Hebrews was putting pen to paper, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit was guiding him and that the Jews who would’ve read it would’ve been familiar with the tradition of Isaiah’s martyrdom. But that’s not all.

We can certainly look at the Scriptures that do describe this time in history and consider whether it’s possible and even likely that King Manasseh might have killed Isaiah. Isaiah 1:1 tells us that Isaiah was a prophet during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, who were all kings of Judah. 2 Kings 20:21 tells us that Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah and succeeded him as king. So, we already know that Isaiah’s prophecies ended when Manasseh came into power after Hezekiah. Logically, we can ask ourselves whether it is likely that a man who proclaimed the word of the Lord for the reigns of four straight kings would’ve suddenly just decided to stop for any reason other than his own death. Prophets of the Lord didn’t plan for retirement! Plus, Isaiah 6:11-13 tells us that God sent Isaiah to prophesy until Judah is forsaken and ruined and the Lord has sent everyone far away. As we look further into the story, that piece of information becomes important.

The reign of Hezekiah lasts from 2 Kings 18-20, and during this time, Hezekiah seems to accept the prophecies of Isaiah. Hezekiah trusts, follows, and seeks the word of the Lord. In 2 Kings 20, he becomes very ill and Isaiah tells him that God says he is going to die (v. 1). Hezekiah pleads with God to remember his faithfulness and heal him, and God tells Isaiah to go back and tell him that God has heard his prayer and will add fifteen more years to his life (vv. 2-6). Isaiah speaks everything God commands and then even tells Hezekiah how to treat his condition and also reveals the sign that God has given to show him he will be healed (vv. 7-11). After this, Hezekiah accepts envoys sent from the king of Babylon and essentially shows off everything in his kingdom. He doesn’t realize how foolish of a move this is until Isaiah declares that God has spoken and that one day, everything Hezekiah has shown off to the envoys will be carried off to Babylon and some of his own biological descendants will be taken as captives and made eunuchs there (vv. 12-18). Certainly, this is common sense. If you boast about your wealth to a pagan country who has the means and the ruthlessness to attack you and take it for themselves, you can expect that they’ll come for it at some point. Hezekiah doesn’t seem to be too alarmed by this because he figures it will happen after he is long gone.

After Hezekiah died, Manasseh took over and “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 21:2). The rest of 2 Kings 21 goes on to tell us the evils that Manasseh committed, but verse 16 is where we specifically see that he “shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end." It’s not difficult to surmise that Isaiah was likely one of those innocents who was killed, especially since he was so prominent during Hezekiah’s reign and we never hear from him again chronologically after this.

You might be wondering what Isaiah’s faithfulness and willingness to speak the word of the Lord truly accomplished. Well, 2 Chronicles 33:1-20 gives us another view of Manasseh’s reign. Verses 11-13 shows us that what Isaiah had prophesied to Hezekiah in the last known prophecy of his that we have outside of the book that bears his name came true! Manasseh, obviously a biological descendant of Hezekiah, is taken captive to Babylon after his kingdom is attacked. He likely knew of Isaiah’s words about this and may have murdered him over that specific prophecy, yet now he realized that it came true. Manasseh humbled himself before the Lord and the Lord rescued him and brought him back to his home and kingdom. “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God” (v. 13). This changed everything for Manasseh and he spent the rest of his reign and life worshipping and following God, even while his people continued to sin.

Like William Wallace, Isaiah stayed loyal to his cause even to his death. Neither of them wanted to die and each of them tried to avoid it with all they could. Wallace had a wife who had been murdered and spoke of a desire to have a home and children and peace. Isaiah 8:1-4 tells us that the prophet had a wife and at least one child. I’m sure he dreamed of living happily ever after with them, but God commanded him to speak truth and he never abandoned it, even though he knew it could cost him his life. In the end, his willingness to proclaim God’s word planted a seed in Manasseh that caused him to turn back to the Lord when it came true. Isaiah may have met an awful end to this life, but he is surely counted among the faithful heroes who chose to die being right with God rather than live in opposition to him. May we boldly follow his example if it ever comes to it in our lives.

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