How to Read Isaiah

Part 1: Isaiah 1–39


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

The book of Isaiah is the record of warnings to Israel of God’s judgment, and the simultaneous hope that God’s Kingdom will come and usher in a new era for all nations. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the prophecies in Isaiah, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this first video about Isaiah 1–39. 




Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the book at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Judah has become a rebellious, sick nation that God is weary of carrying.


Observe: As you watched the video, what observations did you make about Isaiah 1–39? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters.)
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Where an observation determines what the book says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the book means. We’ve asked what the book says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Judah has become a rebellious, sick nation that God is weary of carrying. (Interpretation) In their rebellion, Judah is not living in fellowship with God or seeking His face. They are not keeping covenant.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Isaiah 1–39? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes.)
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Contextualization looks at how the book fits into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: From the moment sin entered the picture, humanity has been in rebellion against God. Israel has not yet kept up their end of the covenant. They are sick with sin. Jesus says the sick need a doctor, not those who are well. This is why He came.


Contextualize: What themes does Isaiah 1–39 seem to establish? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to Genesis?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this book applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: My heart, like theirs, is sick with sin. I must ask Jesus to make me well and give me a new heart. Because of Jesus, I do not have to be estranged from God in my inability to be free from sin. Jesus has accomplished this for me. I can approach him and ask again for a new heart that follows Him. 


Apply: How does the truth from this section of Isaiah affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in chapters 1–39 this week?
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As you finish this first section on Isaiah, thank God for how He’s speaking to you so far. Ask Him to continue to teach you as you dive into the next part of Isaiah.


 
Part 2: Isaiah 40–66


The previous section of this post focused on Isaiah 1–39. This final session covers the second half of Isaiah, chapters 40–66. As with the last section, the goal of this post is to help you navigate Isaiah, see what it teaches us and how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and, finally, to apply it to our lives. 




Now that you have an overview of the second half of Isaiah in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Isaiah. Read Isaiah 62. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Isaiah 62. 


Isaiah 62:1-12 (ESV)

Zion’s Coming Salvation

1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,

and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,

until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,

and her salvation as a burning torch.

2 The nations shall see your righteousness,

and all the kings your glory,

and you shall be called by a new name

that the mouth of the Lord will give.

3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,

and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,

and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,

but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,

and your land Married;

for the Lord delights in you,

and your land shall be married.

5For as a young man marries a young woman,

so shall your sons marry you,

and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,

so shall your God rejoice over you.

6On your walls, O Jerusalem,

I have set watchmen;

all the day and all the night

they shall never be silent.

You who put the Lord in remembrance,

take no rest,

7and give him no rest

until he establishes Jerusalem

and makes it a praise in the earth.

8The Lord has sworn by his right hand

and by his mighty arm:

“I will not again give your grain

to be food for your enemies,

and foreigners shall not drink your wine

for which you have labored;

9but those who garner it shall eat it

and praise the Lord,

and those who gather it shall drink it

in the courts of my sanctuary.”

10Go through, go through the gates;

prepare the way for the people;

build up, build up the highway;

clear it of stones;

lift up a signal over the peoples.

11Behold, the Lord has proclaimed

to the end of the earth:

Say to the daughter of Zion,

“Behold, your salvation comes;

behold, his reward is with him,

and his recompense before him.”

12 And they shall be called The Holy People,

The Redeemed of the Lord;

and you shall be called Sought Out,

A City Not Forsaken.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Remember that observation asks the basic who, what, where, and when questions. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. 

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Isaiah 62? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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We've asked what these verses say about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What do they mean? What is the main message of Isaiah 62? How does it connect with the main message of Isaiah? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 


Contextualize: What themes does Isaiah 62 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Isaiah? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible?
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Application considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.


Apply: How does the truth from this passage affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some practical ways you can live out the truths found in these verses this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video. 


Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Isaiah, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Isaiah this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.



To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.