You will find an introduction and outline of Isaiah, here.
A prayer to use before you read, from the Book of Common Worship.
O Lord our God, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, that we may be obedient to your will and live always for your glory; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Outline of Isaiah 1-39 (based on Sheppard)
I. 1:1-31 Title and Prologue
II. 2:1-39:8 The Testimony of Isaiah from the Death of King Uzziah to the End of Time
A.2:1-4:6 Promises of Judgments of Zion
B. 5:1-7 The Song of the Vineyard
C. 5:8-30 One Side of a Framework of Judgment Against Ephraim and Judah
D. 6:1-9:7 The Testimony of Isaiah:The main historical event that influences these chapters is the Syro-Ephraimite war (ca. 735 BCE). For a brief discussion of that war, see here. Isaiah was a prophet to King Ahaz of Judah. Judah allied with Assyria and they defeated Syria and Israel. Assyria, in 722 BCE sent Israelites into exile and there is not further historical record of the Northern tribes.
6:1-13 Isaiah’s Vision and Call: King Uzziah died in 736 or 735 BCE. His son was Jotham and Ahaz was his grandson. Isaiah has a vision of God in the Temple. In verse 8 God asks, “Whom shall I send…” and Isaiah answers, “Here I am, send me.” Verse 9 is God’s commission to Isaiah. What do you think of the commission and Isaiah’s plaintive response? As devastating as Gd’s message to Isaiah is, some hope remains- a holy seed will survive in the stump of the tree which has been cut down and burned.
7:1-24 Chapter 7 shifts from the first person narrative of chapter 6 to third person. the king of Aram (Damascus/Syria) and the king of Israel (also known at Ephriam) join forces and attack Judah in an attempt to replace Ahaz with a king who will join their alliance against Assyria. A fuller is someone who works with wool. The pool in question was Jerusalem’s water supply which was (like other cities) outside the city walls. There was a tunnel which allowed protected access to the water supply. Isaiah has children who have symbolic names (as did Hosea’s children). Isaiah’s son’s name Shearjashub means “a remnant shall return”. Isaiah’s message to Ahaz is that the attackers will not prevail, as long as King Ahaz trusts in God. In verse 10 and following, Isaiah offers to provide a sign. Ahaz declines. Isaiah declares there will be a sign. In verse 14 the Hebrew word used means “young woman” and does not presume the woman is or is not a virgin. The LXX translated the noun as “virgin”. Also the Hebrew does not specify a tense for the verb in the verse. Sometimes it is translated in the future tense and sometimes in the present tense. Curds and honey are foods that would be difficult to obtain during a siege, the implication being that by the time the child was 203 years old, the threat from the north will be over and prosperity will have returned.
For Christians, verse 14 takes on greater significance than is found in a plain reading of this text. While we will not trace the development of the messianic interpretation of this verse, watch for other texts in Isaiah which have also gained messianic interpretations.
Verses 18-24 are a series of four “In that day” statements from Isaiah that are based on the consequences of Ahaz’s refusal to trust God and Ahaz’s appeal to Assyria for help.
8:1-15 Now the text returns to first person and an account of Isaiah’s son whose name means “spoil speeds,booty hastes” or “The spoil speeds, the prey hastens”. Again, as with Immanuel in the previous chapter, at a particular times in the child’s life, the judgment will happen. The “waters of Shiloah” are a stream which feeds Jerusalem’s water supply. “The River” is the Euphrates which is in Assyria. Verses 9-10 are a short hymn in which the nations who act against Judah are put on notice that in the end, God is with Israel. Immanuel “God is with us”. i.e. Judah. Notice how Immanuel has been used in the preceding verses. Verses 11-15 are a sort of recap, trust God, not other nations. In verses 16-22 Isaiah collects his teaching. Isaiah and his followers/disciples.children are to remain faithful event though some will urge them to consult mediums.
9:1-7 Zebulun, Naphtalim the land beyond the Jordan, and Galilee of the nations were land/tribes of Israel taken by Assyria. Verses 2-7 are a song/psalm of thanksgiving that offers hope for the restoration of the kingdom after the Exile. Again, as earlier in Isaiah, these verses are read messianically by Christians.
E. 9: 8-10:4 The Other Side of a Framework of Judgement Against Judah and Ephraim: Now Isaiah focuses on northern Israel. Each of the oracles ends with the same statement, “for all this, his anger has not turned away; his hand is stretched out still”. This statement was also found in 5:25 and suggests that this section and chapter 5 form a pair of bookends around 6:1-9:7.
9:8-20 Three oracles accuse the Northern Kingdom of wrongdoing, arrogance and a lack of trust in God. Jacob was also known as Israel. Ephraim is a northern tribe and Samaria is the Northern Kingdom’s capital. Manassah was also a northern tribe.
10:1-4 This is the seventh “Woe oracle”. The first six are found in 5:8-24. What is the problem which causes God’s judgment?
F.10:5-11:16 Woe to Assyria and Promise to Judah: Now we have judgments against Assyria and promises to Judah. Notice the repetition of “rod” and its synonyms “yoke” and “staff”.
10:5-19 Again “woe” or “ah” but this time against Assyria. The text assumes that other nations are used by God. But Assyria does not acknowledge God’s role and believes that Assyria itself is responsible for its success.
10:20-27a: Now “on/in that day” a remnant will return. Judah does not need to be afraid. The time of punishment will end and Judah will be free.
10:27b-34:We do not know where all these cities are, but an enemy (Assyria?) advances toward Jerusalem. Then God will act and Assyria will fall. See 2:6-22 and 5:15-17 for similar phrases.
Read More About It:
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of Isaiah.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 6, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 2001.
Sheppard, Gerald T. “Isaiah” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Sweeney, Marvin A. “Isaiah” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.