1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz which he beheld concerning Judea and Jerusalem during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah:
Isaiah mentions four successive kings during whose reigns he prophesies, of whom Ahaz and Hezekiah feature most prominently in the Book of Isaiah, one for evil, the other for good. A fifth goes unmentioned—Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, who slays Isaiah by sawing him in half (Ascension of Isaiah, 11:41). On account of the sins of Manasseh, the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah are ultimately exiled and taken captive by the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:3–4). Manasseh’s reign becomes a point of no return for the Jewish nation because of the king’s corrupting influence on the people.
As the preface of the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 1 dates from about 701 B.C., the fourteenth year of the reign of King Hezekiah. At that time, Assyria invaded the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Israel’s God Jehovah, however, thwarted Assyria’s designs because of the righteousness of the king and his people. Earlier, in 722 B.C., Assyria had conquered the ten-tribed Northern Kingdom of Israel and taken its people captive into Mesopotamia. The first chapter of the Book of Isaiah chronologically is chapter 6, which describes Isaiah’s calling as a prophet in the year of King Uzziah’s death in 742 B.C.
The vision. Although Isaiah’s prophetic ministry may have spanned fifty years, the singular term “vision” (hazon) defines Isaiah’s writings as one conceptually from beginning to end. That is evident in the Book of Isaiah’s multi-layered structuring, through which Isaiah integrates his early oracles and later written discourses into a single prophecy that spells out an end-time scenario. Without taking away from the historical origins of Isaiah’s writings, historical events now serve as an allegory of the end-time, in which “Judea” and “Jerusalem” are codenames that designate Jehovah’s end-time people.
2 Hear, O heavens! Give heed, O earth! Jehovah has spoken: I have reared sons, brought them up, but they have revolted against me.
Isaiah begins his prophecy by calling on the heavens and the earth, which were witnesses of the Sinai Covenant (Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19). That is the covenant Jehovah made with Israel as a nation, through which the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob became a people of God (Exodus 6:7). The “heavens” and the “earth,” however, don’t refer simply to the physical heavens and earth but to those who reside in them. Heavenly witnesses to Jehovah’s covenant no doubt include Israel’s ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others who would retain the utmost interest in their descendants’ welfare.
Additionally, when Jehovah made the covenant with his people Israel, it included both those present and those not present (Deuteronomy 29:14–15). That alludes to the idea that there existed others yet unborn who were parties to the covenant as much as the people who stood with Moses at Mount Sinai. In fact, even though Jehovah’s people Israel may at different times have broken the Sinai Covenant, that never caused the covenant itself to be annulled. According to Isaiah, even the new covenant Jehovah makes at the dawning of the millennial age is a compound of all former covenants he made.
Jehovah has spoken. When Israel’s God speaks formally, as he does here, it signifies an official decree or promulgation. This suggests that at that point in time there has arisen a need for a reassessment or stocktaking. Let’s say his people’s affairs continue for a time but then noticeably deteriorate. At that juncture, Jehovah issues a pronouncement condemning his people or warning them of the inevitable consequences that must follow. Those consequences take the form of curses or misfortunes that pertain to Jehovah’s covenant with his people, which, after repeated admonitions, become irreversible.
I have reared sons, brought them up, but they have revolted against me. The word “sons” (Hebrew banim) is a legal term common to covenants of the ancient Near East that denotes vassalship to an emperor. As the prophets from Moses to Malachi adopt the ancient Near Eastern emperor–vassal model to define Jehovah’s covenant relationship with Israel collectively and with persons individually, the word “sons,” as used in the present context, implies the breaking of covenant relationships by those with whom Jehovah has covenanted. The term “sons” may secondarily denote God’s “children.”
Brought them up. The Hebrew verb romamti additionally alludes to being “elevated” to an exalted position—to possessing special duties or privileges compared to others of God’s children. Jehovah’s covenants with Israel as a nation as well as with individuals among them lend them special status. When they keep the law or terms of the covenant that the prophets have taught them, Jehovah blesses them more than other nations. Now, however, not only are they taking their blessings and privileges for granted, they are “revolting” or “transgressing” (pas‘u) against their source—Israel’s God.