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. (Based on Sheppard)
A. 40:1-31 Transitional Introduction
1. 40:1-11 The Word of Our God Shall Stand
2. 40:12-31 The Author of These Words
B. 41:1-48:22 “Listen to me in Silence, O Coastlands!”
1. 41:1-42:13 God debates the gods
2. 42:14-44:23″ You are my Witnesses!”
3. 44:24-45:19 The Lord’s Anointed: God’s plan to use Cyrus, King of Persia, as God’s anointed one is declared. The word for “anointed” in Hebrew is the same word that can be translated “Messiah”.
45:1-7: This is the only passage in the Old Testament which refers to a non- Israelite as “messiah”. God has commissioned Cyrus and will assist him. The imagery here comes, in part, from the Babylonian New Year ceremonies in which the king’s right to rule is renewed for another year.
45:9-19 From here until 48:19 there is a trial scene where God’s choosing of Cyrus is defended. As you might imagine, the idea that the King of Babylon was chosen by God as God’s anointed was probably met with some surprise. Verses 9-19 are an introductory statement. Verses 9-10 are the only invective in second Isaiah and is aimed at those who question Cyrus as God’s anointed. Verse 14 the wealth of the nations will ultimately be Israel’s and all the nations will recognize Israel’s God as the one true God. What other passages from the Old Testament are echoed from verse 9 to 25?
4. 45:20-48:22 Israel and the Nations:
Verse 45:23 is familiar to Christians. What is its context?
46:1-13 and 47:1-14 both seek to show the powerlessness of the Babylonian god. 46:1-14 use the imagery of the Babylonian New Year Festival where the gods are paraded through the streets to the temple of Marduk. Bel is the title for the chief god, Markduk and Nebo is the son of Marduk. The Babylonian gods are a burden but the God is Israel carries his people. Again there is a satirical statement about idols (5-7).
deliverance, righteousness and salvation are equivalent terms here.
47:1-14 Babylon is humiliated. Babylon is compared to a princess. Babylon’s astrologers and diviners, developed methods to track the stars and planets to try to understand the will of the gods.
48:1-22: A series of courtroom speeches to restate God’s right to use Cyrus for God’s purposes. Verses 1-5, a series of fulfilled prophecies should convince Israel. Verses 6-8 and now God is doing a new thing. Verses 9-11 concern for God’s name is concern for God’s reputation. Verses 20-21 are a hymn or proclamation. Again notice themes in this section that are repeated from other Biblical texts.
C. 49:1-57:21 The Word to the Coast lands.: This is the second of three main subsections of second Isaiah. Notice that it begins as did the first section by calling the coastlands to pay attention. But look back to chapter 41 and see also what is different.
1. 49:1-13 Confirmation of the Servant’s Mission: Verses 1-6 are the second Servant Song. Who is the servant? The servant seems to be both an individual and Israel. Verses 8-12 talk about the covenant between God and the people. Notice the use of imagery evoking the Exodus.
2. 49:14-52:10 The Answer to Zion’s Lament: God works to assure Israel that despite the Exile, Israel will return to Zion.
49:14-26:Israel wonders if God has forsaken them. God’s answer is no I have not. Notice the imagery of God as a mother and the images of reversal; destruction and building, desolation and fullness, oppressors becoming servants.
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.