I am the LORD, the Maker of all things… who carries out the words of his servants and fulfils the predictions of his messengers… (Isaiah 44:24, NIV)
In a multi-faith world, how do we know the God of the Bible, the LORD, is the true God? That’s a live question for us, just as it was for Isaiah’s readers. They were drawn to the pagan gods of their day- and when, in the sixth century BC, they found themselves in exile in Babylon, the temptation to believe the LORD wasn’t really God was huge.
In the middle chapters of his great prophecy, Isaiah provides some remarkable evidence. Again and again, he stresses how the LORD, unlike the ‘gods’ of local religions, would fulfil his promises and predictions.
There are many predictions, but one striking example is how Isaiah records the LORD’s to send someone who will re-populate Jerusalem, and actually gives his name: Cyrus (44:26-45:1). This Cyrus (approx 600-530 BC) was the emperor of Persia, and he did indeed send the exiled Jews home. Naming him may not strike us as strange unless we bear in mind Isaiah’s own dates (see Isaiah 1:1), which place him 740-686 BC, over a century and a half earlier.
This would be like a Victorian naming Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.
Naturally, so specific a prediction has led some scholars to propose that these words cannot have been penned by the Isaiah who lived in Palestine 150 years before Cyrus, because such prediction is simply impossible. Hence there must have been two Isaiahs – an earlier one, writing in Palestine, and the a much later one who was a contemporary of Cyrus, with the exiles in Babylon.
However, it is noteworthy that there are no other substantial grounds for assuming these words were written later. There is no difference in theology within the book. Interestingly, the illustrations of this ‘Cyrus’ section of the prophecy are of trees that grow nearer the Mediterranean coast, not in Babylon (e.g. 41:9), which strongly suggests that Isaiah wasn’t in Babylon, but in Palestine. And there is more.
It is certainly true that predictive prophecy is humanly impossible – but that is exactly Isaiah’s point. The LORD says: Declare what is to be, present it. Let [the idols of the nations] take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? (45:21) Who indeed but the true and living God could do this?
This is indeed a distinguishing feature of the God of the Bible: He promises, then fulfils. The Bible, written over a period of more than 1,000 years, shows how this works – supremely in the multiple promises, prophecies and patterns converging in the person of Jesus. By contrast, the Koran knows no such emphasis, nor can it: it was written over a period of only about 22 years. The God of the Bible is the real God!
We continue our series in these middle chapters of Isaiah this Sunday at 5pm