Moses' final words to the people of Israel included a solemn warning that they not allow God's blessings to become ends in themselves and forget the One who had rescued them from Egypt (Deut. 8:11–20). Regrettably, the Israelites ignored this warning. During the years of greatest material prosperity, God's people forgot the Source of all abundance, believing that they were responsible for their wealth. They served other gods whom they could manipulate and control (1 Kings 11:1–8; Hos. 1:2–3). They forgot the law of God, allowing the elite to oppress the poor (Amos 8). When they faced trouble, they looked to earthly empires for help, not the Lord of hosts (Hos. 7:11–13).
Despite their failures, God did not forget His people but sent prophets to call them to repentance. He sent Amos and Hosea to the northern kingdom of Israel, but they were not heard, and Assyria carried the Israelites into exile in 722 BC. The kings and people of the southern kingdom of Judah were more apt to remember the Lord, but even they fell into apostasy. In 739 BC, the year King Uzziah died, God sent the most beloved of all the writing prophets to Judah, which had been enjoying years of prosperity rivaled only by the reign of Solomon. His name was Isaiah, the son of Amoz (Isa. 1:1; 6).
Isaiah, a contemporary of Hosea, ministered from the death of Uzziah in 739 BC through the reign of Hezekiah. If he prophesied until Hezekiah's death in 686 BC, this represents a ministry of more than fifty years. During this period, Judah watched as Assyria was on the prowl, and was no doubt devastated when its brother Israel fell. Judah had to decide whether it would submit to Assyria as a vassal state or resist the empire. Moreover, once it decided to resist Assyria, Judah had to choose whether it would do so in its own strength, relying on alliances with other earthly powers, or whether it would trust wholly in the Lord. Isaiah, of course, called Judah to the latter option, rebuking the people for their sin and calling for their repentance (1:18–20; 7–8). In so doing, he also prophesied about what would happen to Judah hundreds of years later, after the people had been exiled to Babylon (586 BC; see Isa. 40–66).
Isaiah opens his book not with his call to ministry but with a picture of Judah in his day, a grim picture full of rebellion and idolatry. At the same time, there was still hope, for God was willing to forgive His people if they were to return to Him (Isa. 1).
God often causes His people to prosper materially, so we may enjoy the fruit of our godly labors. However, material abundance can be dangerous because, if we are not careful, we can forget the Source of all blessings and trust in the blessings themselves. That is why it is so important to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness, remembering that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away (Job 1:21b). No matter our level of prosperity, may we not forget that every good gift comes from Him.