It is a good thing that we live by grace because I am behind on my own reading of the Bible. But here are some insights from past readings and future readings that I hope will help you in your understanding of scripture.
First, Song of Solomon or Song of Songs really is what you think it is. In other words, it is a love song. My Hebrew professor suggested that we give a copy of it to every couple we marry to read to each other. I have never done that but if you know a couple who loves poetry or are real literary geeks, you may want to share it with them!! No, you did not miss it, there really is no reference to God in the whole book. The reason it is included in the Bible is because many read it not purely as an affirmation of the joy of human love but also as symbolic of God’s love for us. Indeed, God does see each of you as beautiful beyond compare and searches for you diligently! It is nice to know too that our scriptures do celebrate physical, human love between two people who are completely committed to each other.
Now some helpful information about Isaiah – our current reading…
Isaiah is one of the prophets. Know that the prophets are not compiled in chronological order in the Bible. So for any prophetic book, it is helpful to know when most scholars think it was written and what else historically was happening at that time. This is where all that reading in Kings and Chronicles is actually most helpful!
The problem with Isaiah is that almost every Biblical scholar agrees that it was not written at one time by one person. It may have been edited later by one person or group but it appears to be more like three separate books than one.
So think of Isaiah 1-33 (with 34-39 written later but added to that book) as Isaiah 1. This Isaiah, son of Amoz, preaches from about 742 to 700 BCE. This is long after the northern and southern kingdoms have split apart. In fact, this is the time when the northern kingdom (Israel or Ephraim) actually attacks Judah (southern kingdom) with the aid of Syria. Eventually the Assyrians come to the help of Judah and destroy the northern kingdom leaving Judah essentially as a puppet state for Assyria. Much of this part is written while King Ahaz is ruler in Judah. He is the one who actually sacrifices his sons to Molech!! For a refresher on what all happens, read 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28 again. Remembering some of that helps us understand why we hear so many warnings about Jerusalem’s fall.
Isaiah 40- 55, often referred to as second Isaiah is written from 587 to 538 BCE. (Obviously not the same writer unless people really did live for hundreds of years then.) In between these two parts of Isaiah, Assyria loses power and Babylon becomes the new super power of the day. So this is the time of the Babylonian captivity or the exile for Judah. This is written to bring comfort to the exiles.
Third Isaiah is chapters 56-66 and was probably written by multiple writers sometime after 538 BCE. 538 was when the Persian ruler overthrew Babylon and allowed the Hebrews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild. So the final chapters deal with the return of the exiles.
I hope this helps as you read through Isaiah!! But even with all the historical information, do not forget that many of God’s messages are timeless. The prophets are still read today because they do remind us to remain faithful to our Creator!!