Lyric promises to the exiles in Babylon of their imminent return to Judaea, the southern part of Israel (Isaiah 40). God’s suffering servant plays a crucial part in this return. This is the later period.


The final section (Isaiah 56), also set in this later period, challenges the returned exiles to maintain justice. The section promises that from the rebuilt Jerusalem God’s glory will spread throughout the world.

Once we’ve identified these eight sections, we can see how the book of Isaiah alternates back and forth between events within the prophet’s lifetime and events that took place about 150 years later. The materials are woven together skillfully. Through strategic arrangement, the book of Isaiah presents a unified vision of God’s past, present and future interactions with His people.

So how should you read the book of Isaiah? The most important thing is to recognize the separate sections and time references. Then create your own reading plan that will allow you to understand the book. If knowing the time references helps you read the book meaningfully in its current sequence, great. But there’s no reason not to take other approaches.

For example, you might want to read sections 1, 4 and 6 together first, to understand the challenges Judah faced during the Assyrian crisis and to see how that crisis was resolved. You could then read sections 7 and 8 together, to see how the people were freed from exile and how they discovered God’s plan for them after their return. Then try reading sections 3 and 5 together and compare them with other future-focused prophecies in the Bible. Once you’ve read all these sections, you’ll see how the oracles against the nations in section 2 provide the historical and theological backdrop to each section.

You don’t have to read straight through a Bible book; take whatever creative approach is best for you. That’s never against the rules.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Each issue of Bible Study Magazine provides tools and methods for Bible study as well as insights from people like John Piper, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Kay Arthur, Randy Alcorn, John MacArthur, Barry Black, and more. More information is available at Originally published in print: Copyright Bible Study Magazine (Mar–Apr 2010): pg. 26–27.

Publication date: March 18, 2013