These were the times when some were proclaiming threatenings of punishment against personal sins and national crime among the northern clans while others predicted calamity in retribution for the transgressions of the southern kingdom. It was in the wake of this arousal of conscience and consciousness in the Hebrew nations that the first Isaiah made his appearance.
Isaiah went on to preach the eternal nature of God, his infinite wisdom, his unchanging perfection of reliability. He represented the God of Israel as saying: “Judgment also will I lay to the line and righteousness to the plummet.” “The Lord will give you rest from your sorrow and from your fear and from the hard bondage wherein man has been made to serve.” “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘this is the way, walk in it.’” “Behold God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid, for the Lord is my strength and my song.” “‘Come now and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like the crimson, they shall be as wool.’”
Speaking to the fear-ridden and soul-hungry Hebrews, this prophet said: “Arise and shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation and has covered me with his robe of righteousness.” “In all their afflictions he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and in his pity he redeemed them.”
This Isaiah was followed by Micah and Obadiah, who confirmed and embellished his soul-satisfying gospel. And these two brave messengers boldly denounced the priest-ridden ritual of the Hebrews and fearlessly attacked the whole sacrificial system.
Micah denounced “the rulers who judge for reward and the priests who teach for hire and the prophets who divine for money.” He taught of a day of freedom from superstition and priestcraft, saying: “But every man shall sit under his own vine, and no one shall make him afraid, for all people will live, each one according to his understanding of God.”
Ever the burden of Micah’s message was: “Shall I come before God with burnt offerings? Will the Lord be pleased with a thousand rams or with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown me, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” And it was a great age; these were indeed stirring times when mortal man heard, and some even believed, such emancipating messages more than two and a half millenniums ago. And but for the stubborn resistance of the priests, these teachers would have overthrown the whole bloody ceremonial of the Hebrew ritual of worship.