Understanding Isaiah

Brief Notices
Reviewer: Ann N. Madsen
Categories: Book Reviews
Journal: 39:2
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The title of this recent Isaiah commentary is inviting. Who does not long to understand Isaiah? The opening words of the introduction describe the predicament: "Most of us know that we have been commanded to diligently search the words of Isaiah. And most of us agree that that is a hard thing to do." The authors offer tools and suggestions to ease the task. The first time reader of Isaiah, the seasoned scholar, and all students in between will find aid and comfort here as they seek to understand Isaiah.

The format of the book is particularly helpful and user friendly. How to utilize this format is explained in the first six pages of the 659-page volume. A chapter in the book corresponds to each chapter in Isaiah. each chapter begins with a focus paragraph or two to help readers in "likening Isaiah unto ourselves" by relating themes of particular chapters to specific challenges people face today. This approach welcomes the reader into the chapter with some notion of its content. Of course, the notion is the authors interpretation, but this is the stuff of which commentaries are made. Isaiah's poetry is so heavily symbolic that authors have difficulty standing back and allowing readers conjure their own images, allowing the metaphor speak to each individual on a personal level. The temptation to simplify is always present, especially when there are so many levels of meaning to be plumbed; defining one may close the door to others waiting in the wings. The Isaiah text is printed in Hebrew poetic form: short poetic lines enable the reader to discern the symbolic parallelism that is obscured when the text is printed in prose as it is in our King James Bible.