Here is a prayer to use before reading:
From the Book of Common Worship:
Eternal God, your wisdom is greater than our minds can attain, and your truth shows up our learning. To those who study, give curiosity, imagination, and patience enough to wait and work for insight. Help us to doubt with courage, but to hold all our doubts in the larger faith of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
An Outline of Second Isaiah: The testimony of Isaiah addressed to people from the end of the Exile to the end of time.
A. 40:1-31 Transitional Introduction
B. 41:1-48:22 “Listen to me in Silence, O Coastlands!”
C. 49:1-57:21 The Word to the Coast lands.
1. 49:1-13 Confirmation of the Servant’s Mission
2. 49:14-52:10 The Answer to Zion’s Lament:
50:1-3 God’s response to Zion’s lament continues from chapter 49. Israel is neither divorced nor sold. God is faithful even though Israel did not answer.
50:4-11 The third servant song. Who is the servant in this song? Verses 10-11 seem to presuppose a different speaker.
51:1-8 God addresses the righteous. In verse 2 Sarah is mentioned. This is the only place in the Old Testament outside of Genesis that Sarah is mentioned. Verses 4 and 5 paraphrase Isa 2:2-4. What themes from Isaiah and the rest of Torah and the Prophets are repeated here?
51:9-11 The prophet calls upon God to act. Again notice the imagery from other parts of the Old Testament.
51:12-16 God answers.
51:17-52:12 The Kingship of God. Verses 17-23 The prophet addresses Jerusalem.
3. 52:13-53:12 The Righteous Servant:The fourth servant song. Who is the servant? The Talmud says it is Moses. The Christian tradition says it is Jesus. The book of Isaiah says it is the nation of Israel. What do you think? Can there be more than one “correct” answer?
4. 54:1-57:21 The Promise and Demands of Shalom: Notice how often shalom/peace, wholeness and safety are mentioned.
Verses 54:1-17 close this section of Isaiah with a hymn about the restoration of the covenant. Notice, again, that Israel is referred to as a woman. Also notice the odd request that a barren woman burst into song and shout.
55:1-13 If one divides Isaiah into three books, chapter 55 is the end of second Isaiah. Even if one leaves the remaining chapters as second Isaiah,the remaining chapters are for the most part from anonymous prophets from the Persian period. These verses, 1-13 sound similar to wisdom literature as Israel is exhorted to faithfulness. The covenant with David is recalled. Verses 6-7 are a call to repentance. Verses 8-13 are an explanation of why God’s ways can seem mysterious and unexpected and a promise for the certainty of God’s promises.
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.